Water Hub partners and SMEs working to resolve major problems from damaged sewer networks which increase the risk of flooding and pollution.

Dr Flora Hetherington has been working with Northumbrian Water, civil engineering firm Esh Stantec, SME Intelligent Gels, Durham University Botanic Gardens and Department of Biosciences, to produce a permanent outreach space in the Botanic Gardens. This area showcases the problem of tree roots growing into sewage pipes leading to blockages and breakages. Together Northumbrian Water, Intelligent Gels and Durham University are working on a solution to resist further tree root intrusion. The Water Hub helped bring the partners together to access project funding.

Problems arise when tree roots work their way into sewer pipes, thrive off the water and nutrients, causing hundreds of blocked pipes every year and costing water companies thousands of pounds to repair.

The roots can block the pipes on their own, or sometimes, they can even form a living mesh that traps other flushed items, causing even bigger blockages and leading to sewer flooding and pollution.

Blockages such as these, or those caused by people flushing items such as wipes or sanitary products down the toilet not only create work for the water company, they also cause flooding in people′s homes.

The three organisations have been working together to create a clever new gel which uses a more eco-friendly copper formulation to form a protective barrier and anti-root invasion solution. It would be applied to the inside of existing sewer pipes and coated on new pipes laid in the future, to stop tree roots growing any further without killing the tree.

Durham University′s Botanic Garden has set aside an area for the project to help showcase the idea.


Dr Flora Hetherington at Durham University’s Botanic Garden demonstration site.