Keep the water flowing

Supply contracts including the Glastonbury Festival and Great Dorset Steam Fair have helped to make Wincanton one of the UK's largest bulk water suppliers. And, as Dean Stiles hears, its huge fleet means it can manage emergencies too.

MORE AND MORE businesses have in place a disaster recovery plan to restore infrastructure and services following disruption. The priority is usually IT and data storage on the assumption that services provided by utilities will take care of themselves.

But high profile events, such as flooding in Gloucester in July 2007 and the serious drought in 1995/6 that required emergency measures in Yorkshire to bring water by road tanker from outside the region, remind companies of their vulnerability to more than just power disruption.

Putting in place plans to manage water loss has been a growth area for Wincanton, better known as a logistics, transport, and warehousing service provider, and which is now one of the largest bulk water suppliers in the UK.

"Water supply is no longer taken for granted," says Gareth Smith, Wincanton's head of development, manufacturing. "Many companies now include water loss as part of their disaster recovery plans. Without water, buildings cannot function, toilets do not work, and people need water. It has become more of an issue with labour intensive operations."

Wincanton's water business developed more than 20 years ago when its tanker fleet in the South-west provided emergency water cover for water companies to maintain customer supply.

The size of Wincanton's logistics business - the company has a 6,000 vehicle fleet - is the basis for providing emergency water cover at realistic prices.

Smith said: "In order to make it as cost effective as possible, you have to minimise the amount of standing kit. We do have dedicated tanks that are parked, ready and waiting and fully compliant for what's required for the water sector; but we aim to keep that to the minimum number possible.

"Water is a good business for us as it utilises a lot of our core skills and equipment. Logistics is the art of moving product from A to B in the most efficient manner; to make sure it gets there in the right state, at the right time, and at the right price. That's where we feel we have the advantage."

Wincanton can draw on its foodgrade tankers running on other contracts, and on existing arrangements with hire companies to obtain additional vehicles and tanks.
Smith said: "There are a number of water companies that do have their own tank fleet kept parked, ready and waiting; but we find that if you go the Wincanton way you get the same support, to the same standards, but at a much reduced cost."

With a contract in place, companies are less exposed to high costs associated with sourcing equipment when a crisis occurs. This was an issue during the Gloucester floods when water companies were, largely, held to ransom.

"Anyone who had a tanker was there; but at a price. That's not the Wincanton way; that's why we have contracts where prices and service levels are agreed up front," Smith said.

Wincanton's emergency packages are like its regular water supply contracts for events such as the Glastonbury festival and the Great Dorset Steam Fair.

"They are all quite different in terms of size and scale and exactly what's required. The Glastonbury Festival uses 4,500m3 of potable water to top up their existing site water supplies. That's one of the biggest festivals, not just in terms of the people attending but also the duration, with people there a week before and a week later still needing water," Smith said.

"We also provide deliveries on flat beds with Hiab cranes to demount 1,000l bins."

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