The Work

Brighton and Hove have been shaped and influenced by water.

Not just through an evolving relationship with the sea, but through the challenges of securing a reliable supply of drinking water and dealing with sewage and the spread of disease during the rapid growth of the 19th Century. The challenges continue today, as population growth, increased water consumption and a changing climate all put pressure on water resources. As a result, Brighton & Hove is classified as an area of ‘serious water stress’. As there are no rivers within Brighton & Hove, the city is entirely reliant on the chalk aquifer that sits beneath it and the Downs for its drinking water. This store of fresh water must be carefully managed and protected to provide a clean and reliable supply. As a coastal city, it must defend itself from the sea and be prepared for more frequent extreme weather events and rising sea levels, while maintaining and improving seawater quality and protecting vulnerable marine life and habitats. The recent designation of a Marine Conservation Zone west of Brighton Marina and the award of UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status to the area are positive steps.

The One Planet Living principle of sustainable water sets high standards to aspire to. Some standards can be met by education and simple changes in behaviour, while others can only be achieved through new technologies and long-term investment in infrastructure.Building on the work of forward-thinking people in the past and with innovative thinking for the future, the city is striving to create a more sustainable relationship with water, in all its forms.




This photo essay is generously sponsored by Standard8.


  • Peacehaven Wastewater Treatment Works. This treatment works opened in early 2013 as part of a £300m improvement programme by Southern Water to meet EU wastewater regulations.
    The plant treats over 95m litres of wastewater produced each day by Peacehaven, Telscombe Cliffs, Saltdean, Rottingdean, Ovingdean and Brighton & Hove.
    The treated water is pumped out to sea via a new 2.5km sea outfall.
  • When wastewater arrives here at the treatment works, it is pumped 22 metres upwards to allow it to flow around the facility by gravity.
  • Wastewater sludge is heated to over 400°C to remove 95% of remaining water. The solid granules that are produced from the drier are used in agriculture as a soil conditioner. Gases produced during the treatment process are used to generate power for the facility.
  • Brighton and Hove’s drinking water is sourced entirely from 13 boreholes sunk into the chalk aquifer beneath the city and the Downs. Water stored up in the aquifer during the winter months is vital for supplying the city during the summer when demand peaks.

    Southern Water must carefully monitor ground water levels so as not to abstract too much water in any one area and to prevent salt water intrusion into boreholes located closer to the sea.

  • This water supply works and pumping station in East Brighton was built in 1932. It has 3 boreholes that currently supply 12.9m litres per day, just over 10% of Brighton & Hove and the surrounding area’s water.

    All the boreholes sit within the main chalk aquifer, and water is abstracted through a system of horizontal tunnels or ‘adits’ – many of which were hand dug – that intercept water flowing through the fractured rock.

  • Control Room, Water Supply Works near Lewes. This water supply works was built in 1955. It supplies approximately 11.5m litres per day.
    These machines monitor and control the output from the borehole. They are linked to a regional control centre so they can be operated remotely.
  • Built between 1871 and 1874, these sewers were designed to cope with the rapid population growth of Brighton & Hove and to direct sewage away from the city’s beaches and bathing areas.
    The sewers are still in use and have an estimated lifespan of 500 years. Sewer tours have been running since 1956 and continue today.
    They help educate visitors about where their sewage ends up and about what not to put down their toilets and drains.
  • There are no rivers running through Brighton and Hove. However, you can find fresh water bubbling to the surface along a line of springs just north of the city. This gently flowing river is fed by a spring at the foot of the Devil’s Dyke Combe.
  • John Lawrance of The Stanmer Preservation Society, standing on a rainwater ‘catch’ built for the Earl of Chichester between 1870-1875 to supply drinking water to Stanmer House.
    When rain fell on the concrete and flint catch, it flowed downhill to a basin at the foot of the hill. The water was filtered through sand and charcoal and then fed into large storage tanks under the grounds of Stanmer House.
    Each cottage in Stanmer village also collected rainwater on the roof, which was then filtered and stored for drinking water.
  • Les Pawlack (left) and Bob Fletcher (right) working on the rainwater harvesting system on the roof of The Jubilee Library. Rainwater drains through the pebbles and is then filtered into a grey water system and used to flush the toilets. It reduces the library’s water use by approximately 7% a year.
  • In an attempt to limit the amount of fertiliser entering the groundwater, David Taylor was asked to take part in a soil mapping initiative funded by the Environment Agency. Soil samples were taken from every hectare of his farm.
    The results were used to create a detailed fertility map, showing the levels of nutrients across the land.
    The data was then combined with GPS co-ordinates, so fertiliser can be automatically applied by the tractor at the correct levels, depending on where the soil is nutrient rich or poor.
  • Founded in 1996, the Whitehawk Community Food Project is based on a one acre allotment on Whitehawk Hill, East Brighton. They harvest rainwater on all their roofs and store it in large tanks at the top of the allotment.
    This then flows downhill to water butts throughout the site from which they water the plants by hand with watering cans and buckets.
  • DTI-r is an intellectual development company based in Poynings. The company has developed an innovative new use for a membrane material made by DuPont. When irrigation pipes are lined with the membrane they can be filled with almost any type of unpurified water - saline, polluted, or wastewater.
    The membrane allows water vapour - which cannot carry salts - to diffuse through the pipe walls, while the contaminants are retained within the pipes.
  • Ian Hardy, Buildings Manager at The Brighton Centre. “We had 96 urinals flushing every 20 minutes in this building. That’s an awful lot of water! We’ve cut that down by over two thirds.”

    By installing a more efficient flushing system for the venue’s urinals, the Brighton Centre is saving an estimated 13,000 litres of water a day.

  • Southern Water is installing over 75,000 water meters in Brighton & Hove as part of a multimillion pound initiative to get their customers to use less water. The average household uses about 10% less water once a meter is installed.

    Widespread installation of water meters also helps Southern to identify leaks across the system and to reduce water loss.

  • During periods of high rainfall, Brighton & Hove can suffer from significant surface water flooding. Maggie Moran, a flood engineer for the City Council, is standing at the base of one of three large cascade dams and soakaways built in the early 1950s and updated in 2001, to mitigate flooding of residential streets in Bevendean.
    Similar flood mitigation measures have been constructed in other risk areas, predominantly where the city meets the South Downs.
  • Martin Eade and a team of engineers have recently completed a study on coastal erosion and risk management for the coastline between Brighton Marina and the River Adur for the next 100 years.

    With the climate changing, sea levels rising and increased frequency and intensity of storms, the existing coastal defences are under increasing threat.

    As a result of the study, a programme of future improvements works will be implemented to make the coast defences capable of withstanding a 1 in 200 year storm event.

  • The coast between the river Adur in the west and Brighton Marina in the east, is called a ‘closed cell’. Any shingle arriving at the western end is brought by the process of ‘longshore drift’ along to the eastern end. This means that the beaches in the east get bigger, and the ones in the west gradually get smaller.

    To manage this, shingle must be periodically replaced at the western end. The role of groynes is to stop shingle moving along at the speed it wants to move, and to accumulate it between groynes, as beaches.

  • The Undercliff Walk and sea wall were built between 1928 and 1935 and run from Black Rock to Saltdean. The wall protects the foot of the cliffs from erosion and groynes help maintain the shingle beaches. These defences have been gradually renewed and improved over the last 15-20 years.
  • A chalk wave-cut platform runs east from Brighton Marina to Newhaven. The platform is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, is protected by the Beachy Head West Marine Conservation Zone and is within the recently awarded UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
  • Ovingdean. The distinctive parallel gullies, ridges and rocky tide pools of the wavecut platform support a wide variety of important species such as sea anemones, blue mussel and native oyster beds.

    Long and short-snouted seahorses, which are protected by law, can be found in the shallower waters and the subtidal chalk reef.

  • Brighton Marina is well protected from the English Channel by two long breakwaters.

    Behind these walls and beneath the boats, the sheltered marina provides a lagoon environment that supports a diversity of species more typical of deeper water habitats, including several sponge species and short-snouted seahorses.

  • Fishermen at Dusk, off Brighton Marina
  • The World’s deepest hand-dug well sits next to the entrance to the Nuffield Hospital in Woodingdean.
    Work began in 1858, with men digging 24 hours a day by candle light in appalling conditions. It was not until the 16th March 1862 that water was finally reached.
    At 1285 feet deep (850 of which are below sea level) this brick-lined well is deeper than the Empire State Building is tall.
  • Thomas Ball: Sustainable Water at Hove Promenade Thomas Ball: Sustainable Water at Hove Promenade
  • Thomas Ball: Sustainable Water at Hove Promenade Thomas Ball: Sustainable Water at Hove Promenade
  • Thomas Ball: Sustainable Water at Hove Promenade Thomas Ball: Sustainable Water at Hove Promenade
  • Thomas Ball: Sustainable Water at Hove Promenade Thomas Ball: Sustainable Water at Hove Promenade
| of 28 Play |

The Photographer

Thomas Ball

Thomas Ball (b.1979, Saudi Arabia) is a documentary photographer from Ireland. He graduated with a first class degree in Natural Sciences from Trinity College Dublin in 2002. He went on to work in the environmental industry and aerial surveying in Australia and Ireland. In 2007 he undertook an MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at The London College of Communication and was awarded a distinction. Since then he has lived in London and worked freelance in the UK and abroad on self-initiated documentary projects and editorial or commercial assignments.

Thomas’ photography has been published extensively, including: GEO, The Guardian, GQ, Wired, National Geographic, Independent on Sunday, The Irish Times, The New Review, Libération, Cicero Magazine, New Internationalist, Les Temps, Foto8, Hotshoe, Creative Review, and The British Journal of Photography. His work has been exhibited widely, most notably at The Whitechapel Gallery (London), Somerset House (London), Flash Forward Festival (Canada & US), Les Rencontres d’Arles (France), The Royal Photographic Society’s International Print Exhibition (UK), The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies (USA), Association of Photographer’s Gallery (London), The Hereford Photo Festival (UK), Crane Kalman Gallery (Brighton), and The Royal West of England Academy (Bristol). His first short film Electrosensitive: Outliers in a Wireless World was screened at the Reframe Documentary Film Festival in Canada in January 2014. Thomas was nominated for the Prix Pictet Photography Prize in 2010 and was a Magenta Foundation Flash Forward Winner in 2011 & 2013.

Photographer Approach

As Brighton & Hove’s seafront is so well known, I have tried to focus my attention away from the more traditional views of the city. With my background in environmental science, I was eager to learn more about the region’s geology and the influence the chalk landscape has had on the city. I also wanted to look into the city’s history and to see what impact past events have had on Brighton and Hove’s relationship with water. My intention has been to form a narrative between history, landscapes, people and infrastructure and highlight some of the ways local residents, businesses and the Council are conserving, protecting and recycling water today.

Like much of my previous documentary work, I shot the majority of this series on a large format 5x4” sheet film camera. The clunky nature of the camera and expense of the film place limitations on the way I can work. Although this can be frustrating, I find these limitations help me to focus on the people, places and topics that I am most interested in and new opportunities and ideas arise as a result.

I have learned a lot about water in Brighton & Hove and the South Downs while working on this series. I have also been reminded about how disconnected many of us are from where our natural resources come from and where our waste ends up. In the case of water, it is important that we constantly remind ourselves what a vital resource it is and that we can’t just take it for granted.

View More

The exhibition

Exhibition Info

Dates: 01/10/2014 - 31/07/2015
Times: Open access 24/7
Address: Hove Promenade, Nr Brunswick Square, Hove, BN3 1HL
Link: Link

Hove Promenade

If you look away from the sea you will notice Brighton and Hove rising upwards onto the Downs. The city sits upon a massive chalk block that holds a vital store of water which generations of people have abstracted for drinking. If you travel north from the promenade you can see the tower of the British Engineerium - originally called the Goldstone Pumping Station - which was built in 1866 to pump water out of the ground to supply the expanding town. It is just a small part of what is now a large and complex network of boreholes and pipelines that provide the city with its water today.

Standing on the promenade you can watch and listen to the sea crashing and rolling onto the city’s popular beaches. It’s easy to take the shingle for granted, but it plays a vital role in protecting the coastline from the erosive forces of wave and tidal action. The line of sleepy groynes play their role too in slowing down the movement of the shingle and keeping the beaches in place. The winter storms of 2013/2014 saw these defences tested and the city must be prepared for the possibility of more extreme weather in the future. Out to sea, the water quality benefits from the network of sewers under the city that take wastewater to the new treatment works at Peacehaven. This helps protect bathing beaches, marine life and habitats and sustains a healthy fishing industry.

Our everyday lives are linked in to the cycle of water from when it falls as rain to when it becomes our sea and evaporates into the sky to form clouds once more. So take a moment to think about the water that supports us as you watch raindrops run down your window, as you walk over the land or as you dip your toes in the sea.

Access Information

How to get there:

Closest train station: Brighton

Closest buses: 1, 1A, 2, 5, 5A, 5B, 6, 20, 21, 21B, 25, 46,49, 60, 700

Cycle: On National and Regional Cycle Network, Route 2

Car: street parking nearby

Wheelchair accessible: yes


One Planet City: Professional Commissions

Ten photo essays responding to the ten sustainability principles of One Planet Living with ten site-specific installations in public spaces across Brighton & Hove.