Gove: Water companies need to ‘raise the bar’ to tackle leaks

Water companies have agreed they need to "do more" to adapt and prepare for changing weather patterns as the environment secretary challenged them to "raise the bar" to tackle leakage.

The meeting at Defra was attended by South Staffordshire (also representing its subsidiary Cambridge Water), Bristol, Severn Trent, Thames, Yorkshire, Essex and Suffolk (via its parent company Northumbrian), Portsmouth and United Utilities.

Out of 18 English companies, eight missed their leakage targets in 2017-18 and three companies just met their targets.

Michael Gove said: “I met the heads of a range water companies, specifically those where leakage has been an issue.

“While extreme weather events do pose a challenge to the industry, they are a consequence of climate change with which we all have to deal. We all agreed water companies must do more to adapt and prepare for changing weather patterns.”

Yorkshire Water’s chief executive Richard Flint described the meeting, which took place at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as “constructive”.

Gove added: “I have asked the companies I spoke to today to raise the bar on tackling leaks and agree ambitious new targets when they submit their business plans to Ofwat in September.

“The government, Ofwat and customers expect water companies to improve their performance.”

Speaking after the meeting Flint, said: “The meeting with the secretary of state for the environment was constructive and gave us a chance to highlight our leakage reduction plans. We take leakage extremely seriously and will spend £75m this year on preventing and fixing leaks including installing over 30,000 acoustic telemetry units on our pipe network to help identify pressure points.

“We acknowledge that if we are asking customers to be water efficient then we have to hold up our side of the bargain too and that’s why we plan to cut our leakage rate by 40% by 2025, which would make us an industry leader.

“During the heatwave, we have had to deal with three times as many leaks compared to the same time last year caused by the very dry ground conditions but in response we have ramped up our resource and have around 150 leakage repair teams out on the streets repairing leaks as quickly as possible to help protect supplies.”

Speaking about the impact the recent heatwave has had and leakage levels within the sector, a spokesperson for Water UK, said: “Demand for water remains higher than usual during the very hot weather, which is why water companies are continuing to ask customers to use water wisely to avoid a drop in pressure from their taps. There are no other hosepipe bans planned apart from the one in the North West of England, which will begin next week unless the area gets a sustained period of rainfall, but the industry is monitoring the situation closely.

“Tackling leakage is one of the water industry’s top priorities. We know how important it is for customers, and since the mid-1990s companies have successfully managed to reduce leakage levels by a third. There is more to do, which is why water companies are currently developing ambitious plans to cut leakage even further. Although around half of water companies met or beat their leakage targets this year, the rest were affected by the extreme weather during the Beast from the East because most companies were on track to meet their targets before the freeze and quick thaw caused pipes to burst.”

Ofwat has urged the water sector to deliver a “game change” on leakage. It has challenged the water sector to reduce leakage by 15 per cent by 2025 and said it will take tough action against companies which do not meet their leakage commitments.

Katey Pigden

This article first appeared on edie sister title’s website, Utility Week

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