BLOG: Quest for Water Taps into a Thirst for Hydro Knowledge and Innovation - Fiona Millar

11 January 2023
Fiona Miller, Hydro Nation Chair, pictured beside Scottish Water Top Up Tap

Hydro Nation Chair

Fiona is the Programme Manager for a new programme of research and innovation

Exactly one year ago, on January 11 2022, I started as Programme Manager for a new programme of research and innovation funded by Scottish Water called the Hydro Nation Chair. Previously a research funding officer at the University of Stirling, with a PhD in the sociology of work I was excited (& albeit a bit nervous) to provide day to day operational management and strategic governance to this exciting and impactful programme of research and innovation. 

The Hydro Nation Chair (HNC) is a £3.5 million funded programme that will develop an agile research and innovation community to enable Scottish Water to transition beyond Net Zero by 2040. Our mission is to act as the catalyst that will grow the Research and Innovation capacity by building strong collaborations and partnerships; facilitating new capability deployed at scale and delivering opportunities for change and clean growth. Running from April 2021-2027, Prof Andrew Tyler as Scotland Hydro Nation Chair, provides thought leadership and management to the programme and its activities, which has three strands of delivery: Research, Technology & Place.  Alongside Andrew, the team, branded the ‘Fellowship of the nine’ on social media, comprises of four research leader fellows hosted at four Scottish HEIs leading on research missions aligned to Scottish Water priorities; two Innovation Fellows, leading on missions of Place based Innovation and technology innovation; a programme manager (that’s me 😉) and Scottish Water sponsor, George Ponton in his role as Head of Research and Innovation. 

As HNC Programme Manager I’ve enjoyed a steep learning curve into the world of Scottish Water and the water sector more generally. I can now confidently use the terms SUDS, biochar and chlorophyll in sentences, which I couldn’t have done a year ago, and have a greater understanding (and appreciation) of the effects and influences on our water systems. With Australian roots I have always been conscious of my water usage - not leaving the tap running when brushing my teeth and trying to reduce my time in the shower, aided by a water saving event Scottish Water ran in my local area - but that is probably where my thoughts of water got to. Pre-HNC, water was just there and I didn’t spare too many thoughts on where it came from, how I influenced it and, honestly, just how important it was in so many facets of life. Now, I can advocate for natural drainage systems, such as not concreting over driveways and grass rather than plastic alternatives in our gardens and for 2023 have committed to reducing what I put down the sink (see my public declaration). However, the influence that we as individuals have on the water system is huge and to many of us, like myself pre-HNC, is unknown. Our influence, such as concreting on our driveway, often has its impact beyond our own garden and further afield, such as encouraging flooding further down your street or in the next town. 
Scottish Water Top Up Tap pictured with Hydro Nation Chair bottle on it

Top Up Tap Trail

Fiona is on a mission to visit all of our Top Up Taps across the country

“We all have a part to play in water efficiency, water use and water quality, be that little behaviours such as not over-flushing the toilet or following the actions from one of Scottish Water’s Nature Calls campaigns. ”

Fiona Millar
Programme Manager, Hydro Nation Chair

We all have a part to play in water efficiency, water use and water quality, be that little behaviours such as not over-flushing the toilet or following the actions from one of Scottish Water’s Nature Calls campaigns. The HNC programme is championing these individual behaviours and their influences through its engagement with communities, funded projects into water stewardship and water resilience and by encouraging recognition of individual behaviours in its many stakeholder engagements. 

As part of my learning and appreciation for water I have become more aware of what Scottish water does and what they provide (it goes beyond just the water that comes out your tap at home by the way). Did you know that across Scotland they have 79 top up taps from Lerwick to Dumfries that provide fresh drinking water in the street? 

Last summer I decided to chronicle my discovery of these Scottish water top up taps, an activity  I’ve likened to ‘Munro Bagging’ and involves heading out across Scotland to discover and use the top up taps across the country. Using my Hydro Nation Chair water bottle, I’ve enjoyed finding the top up taps across Scotland and filling up. To date I’ve “found” 15, and hopefully I’ll have ‘bagged’ all 79 by the end of the HNC programme in March 2027 (pressure’s on). My favourite to date has to the tap at Rowardennan at the bottom of Ben Lomond – why? There was some effort required in finding it and that it was well used by walkers filling up ahead of their ascents up Ben Lomond. 

Top up taps encourage the use of reusable water bottles rather than single use plastic and positive hydration behaviours all through enabling free access to fresh water on the go. The taps flow off an existing water main that pumps the water through and it’s nicely chilled ready to consume. Some of them have push buttons and others have a sensor, which have caught me unaware – See tap in Inveraray!  

Given the premise of the HNC programme and the net zero ambitions it is striving for, I’ve tried hard to not actively go to the top up tap. My quest must involve a sense of “stumbling across them” be that by pure chance (like what happened in Largs when I literally walked into the tap) or by finding them on pre organised days out, such as on an anniversary trip to Balloch or when we were Christmas shopping in Stirling). 

I’ve enjoyed sharing my journey, getting friends involved in the quest and raising awareness of the taps to those that don’t know they exist. I suspect some summer holiday planning may be coordinated around possible top up tap sightings, with routes devised to maximise the opportunity to bag a number of top up taps on the way. But in doing so we are also taking ourselves off the beaten track and exploring new parts of Scotland which otherwise might have been undiscovered by me and my family. All whilst staying hydrated, so a win-win. 

Have you noticed the Scottish Water Top up Taps? If so, where’s your closest top up tap? What carbon choice can you make to get to it? And where would you like one to be (I need to start my campaign to get one at the University of Stirling). Join me on my journey, start your own and add to the conversation on Twitter - the full thread of my water tap chronicle can be found here. 

More on the HNC

The programme has 3 overarching priorities: Research, Technology and Place under which there are detailed missions and delivery mechanisms. The programme is founded on the basis of collaboration and as such will deliver its missions through engagement mechanisms, such as the Hydro Nation Chair Crucible, Catalyst Fund, Living Lab through the Forth-ERA project, and partnerships. To date we have hosted 3 Crucible events with over 100 stakeholders across Scotland and the UK, funded 11 projects that will develop new solutions, test ideas and bring communities together and secured nearly £3Million in external funding to support the vision and mission of the Hydro Nation Chair. 

You can follow all of our activity via our Website, Social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn) and by subscribing to our newsletter (sign up via our website).