Much of Exmouth in Devon is built on reclaimed land. Parts of the town are below sea-level and scope for water to soak away is limited. Options for digging into reclaimed land - for example, to build large tanks to store stormwater - are also limited due to the risk of contaminated ground.
This history means that Exmouth is very susceptible to flooding from the sea, rivers and the sewers. When the sewerage network is overwhelmed, it can overflow into the Exe estuary, which is a site of international importance for wading birds.
South West Water's pilot WaterShed Exmouth project is working with homeowners and schools to store water in tanks on higher ground, to manage the rainwater and reduce the operation of the combined sewer overflow into the River Exe.
The project has worked with 21 homeowners in Phillipps Avenue to install dual purpose tanks which provide rainwater for domestic use at the same time as providing storage capacity for rainstorms.
Tanks installed in Phillipps Avenue are already providing homeowners with rainwater for toilets and washing machines. Homeowner Nathan Weston said: “I was delighted to take part. It’s great to think that we are making use of the clean rainwater from our roof to run our washing machine and flush loos, instead of it going down the drain.”
WaterShed Exmouth is ongoing, with work in other roads on higher ground, as well as a project underway at St Josephs Catholic Primary School, where it is proposed to install an underground tank which will capture rainwater from the roof of the school and pump it back into the building to flush toilets. This could reduce the school's water bill by up to a third.
In addition, the project hopes to build a raingarden outside the school that will hold water during storms before slowly soaking into the ground or feeding gradually back into the sewerage network.