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Tapping into the future

WATER

Nigel Jenkins has joined water and environmental engineering company Earth Tech as business development director after similar roles with Laing O'Rourke and Amec.

He talks to Emma Crates

What attracted you to working at Earth Tech?

Laing O'Rourke was doing a lot of work in terms of developing strategies for key clients such as Yorkshire Water and BAA. There is a huge opportunity for Earth Tech to do this k ind of thing in the water sector with the sk ills base that it has. We'll be tak ing a scientific approach to account management and analysing customer needs.

What is Earth Tech's background?

The UK arm grew out of Yorkshire Water, it was then sold to Babcock and was later bought by US company Earth Tech in 1998. We are a process engineering and EPC (engineer/procure/construct) company.

How is the AMP4 per iod work ing out?

It's going really well - our water sector clients include Yorkshire Water, Northumbrian and Severn Trent. Yorkshire Water has been at the top of Ofwat's performance table for the past two years, and we're top of their KPI table, so we're really pleased with that. In our business we haven't seen any major problems - all the expected forecasts in spending have happened for us. I know elsewhere in the industry people have been complaining that AMP4 was slightly slow to start. But the utilities companies all seem to be thinking hard about f lattening out the demand curve for labour so that there isn't such a dramatic tailing-off of projects between AMP periods in the future.

What are the major environmental challenges the water sector faces at the moment?

People are also looking for more energy-efficient ways of treating water. On average the water utility firms consume 2-3 per cent of all the electricity produced in the UK. They're looking to reduce their bills.

Everyone in the sector is also st ill t rying to understand the full implications of the Water Framework Directive, and what the impact on their expenditure is going to be. Because there's such a long lead in time it's difficult to predict exactly when the full impact will be felt. Any potential polluter will have to develop strategies.

What is the main focus of the directive?

We're working hard to understand the implications at the moment. But a key area is that highly capital intensive solutions, such as treatment plants, may not be seen as sustainable solutions in the future. There may be more onus on land and catchment area management, making sure that the water that runs from there is cleaner.

What are the biggest challenges that water utilities companies face?

As with other parts of construction the age ratio is very skewed, with much of the workforce aged 45 and over.

The utilities firms are all thinking very hard about how to manage their in-house knowledge so that the expertise doesn't disappear at once. It's a huge problem for them.

What are your plans for Earth Tech's water activities?

My focus is predominantly the UK at the moment, but I will also be looking at opportunities in Europe. The accession countries are looking to upgrade their core infrastructure at a fast rate - they're hoping to achieve in three years what we've been doing over the last 20 years in this country. So I'm going to be actively pursuing opportunities there. I'm also looking to develop our activities in the industrial water sector. At the moment, the water utilities are bearing the cost of having to treat all the run-off from roads, fields, and industries, almost by default. But under the Water Framework Directive the polluter will be paying. So we're looking at energy-efficient process technologies which can deal with this in a sustainable way. I know that big organisations such as Network Rail are working on this already.