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Southern Water worker conducting water tests

Water recycling

Water recycling is a tried and tested technique that will provide a reliable water supply to customers even in times of severe drought. Water recycling will reduce the amount of water we need to take from the environment.


What’s the process?

Water recycling speeds up the natural water cycle:

  • When water has been used by customers, it is cleaned at a Wastewater Treatment Works before being released into rivers or the sea.
  • Over time, water from the sea evaporates and falls as rain, filling up our water sources like aquifers and rivers.
  • Water is taken from these sources and treated to strict drinking water standards at a Water Supply Works, before sent into supply. 

Water recycling accelerates this process. Some of the treated wastewater will be diverted to a specialised Water Recycling Plant, where advanced treatment techniques turn it into purified recycled water, ready to be released into a lake, river or reservoir.
We will then transfer water from the lake, river or reservoir to a Water Supply Works for further treatment so that it meets strict Drinking Water Inspectorate standards before it reaches customers’ taps.

It’s a process that’s been used around the world for more than 40 years. Our video below explains how it works.

Why do we need water recycling?

The south of England is water stressed. We rely on our natural environment for the water we need but there isn’t an endless supply.

We’ve already agreed to reductions in the amount of water we can take from rivers during a drought and need to find new sources of water to make up the shortfall. Meanwhile, population growth and climate change are continuing to put pressure on the demand for water and the environment's ability to provide it.

This, combined with the responsibility of us all to protect our environment, means if we do nothing, we’ll face a shortage of water.

To keep taps and rivers flowing, we need to take a fresh look at the water we waste. Water recycling, alongside reducing leakage and improving water efficiency, is an essential next step to ensuring our water supplies are truly sustainable and fit for the future.

What our customers think about water recycling

Water recycling around the world

Recycled water is a safe source of drinking water which is widely used in other parts of the world. Further information can be found in:

Our regulators recognise water recycling is an important part of future water supplies – see what the Drinking Water Inspectorate has to say on the matter here.

Our wider water recycling plans

We’re proposing four separate water recycling projects across our region and are one of six water companies currently developing water recycling schemes across the UK. You can read more about our projects below.

Havant, Hampshire

Our plans include taking more water from the planned Havant Thicket Reservoir to our Otterbourne Water Supply Works and using water recycling technology to supplement the reservoir.

Sandown, Isle of Wight

We’re exploring ways to recycle water which will reduce the reliance on the mainland for its water, ensuring supplies are maintained in future droughts.

An aerial view of a person walking on West Wittering Beach

Ford, West Sussex

We’re exploring ways to recycle water and build resilience in Sussex to ensure supplies are maintained in future droughts.

Two people walk with two dogs on Cissbury Ring

Aylesford, Kent

We’re exploring ways to recycle water and build resilience in Kent to ensure supplies are maintained in future droughts.

Frequently asked questions

Check out our frequently asked questions for more information about water recycling and what else we're doing to ensure a reliable water supply.

Yes, water recycling is a safe, established method of water treatment that's already used elsewhere around the world. Water recycling adds further layers of treatment for the already-common practice of pumping highly treated wastewater into rivers, where water is abstracted further downstream for supply. Water recycling produces highly treated, purified water that would be pumped to a Water Supply Works for further treatment in order to meet strict water safety standards.

No – the water recycling proposals are fundamentally different, and separate, from the current system of stormwater releases, which are designed to protect homes from flooding.

Stormwater is wastewater that has been heavily diluted by rain and is sometimes released to the environment to reduce the risk of flooding to homes and businesses.

Recycled water is purified water that has gone through a series of advanced treatment techniques so it can be used as a source for drinking water supplies.

We’re cutting down leakage, improving water efficiency and working with neighbouring water companies to share supplies. These improvements will help save water but we need to find new sources to make sure we can take less from the environment.

Our Target 100 campaign is an industry-leading programme that aims to achieve a reduction in customer consumption from an average of 130 litres per person per day, to 110 litres by 2040 and 100 litres by 2050. We’re doing this by encouraging, supporting and incentivising our customers to understand the value of the water they use.

At the same time, we’re investing in new, innovative ways of finding and fixing leaks to keep water in the network. We’re committed to reducing our leakage rate by 15% by 2025, 40% by 2040 and 50% by 2050.

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