Combe Martin residents are being offered a free water butt as part of a South West Water pilot project to explore whether ‘smart’ rainwater harvesting could help keep water out of the village’s sewerage network.

The water company is working with a Devon-based rainwater management company, OTA Water, to see whether remotely controlled water butts could help smooth the flows of water into the sewerage network and reduce the operation of storm water overflows.

The initiative comes as campaign group Combe Martin water Watch warns the beach could be de-designated as a bathing beach if it fails its water quality tests over the next two seasons.

The group is holding a public meeting at the Village Hall on January 15 at 6.30pm to raise awareness.

Dave Pateman, a senior asset manager at South West Water, said: "South West Water is committed to working with the community and other agencies to improve the bathing water in Combe Martin.

"Research shows that two-thirds of the bacteria affecting the bathing water is from farm animals and dog fouling. But we know there is also more that South West Water can do to reduce storm overflows. Keeping rainwater from hard surfaces like roofs out of the sewerage network has the potential to be one piece of the jigsaw that helps us to do that."

South West Water will give eligible homeowners a water butt, fully installed, which will be theirs to keep. OTA Water will monitor and remotely control the water butt so that it only releases water at times when it won't adversely affect the sewerage network.

OTA Water director Pete Melville-Shreeve said: "We're looking for 'Rainwater Heroes' in Combe Martin who are happy to locate a smart water butt in their garden and help keep rainwater out of the sewerage network.

"If enough water butts are controlled remotely in this way, we could hold back a significant amount of water at source and reduce the impact of storms on bathing water quality."

SWW initially plans to install a small number of water butts and study the results. More could be installed right across the village if the pilot project demonstrates real benefits.

The smart water butts come with a mini computer which can monitor how much water is being captured.

The water butt can be remotely emptied during dry periods so that the tanks have capacity for the next storm.

Look out for representatives from OTA Water in the village from December 17.

Eligible villagers will have received a postcard and should use the contract details to get in touch with OT Water if they wish to express an interest.