Speaking at the Institute of Water’s annual conference today, Lord Smith argued it was vital that water companies invested now to tackle leaks and prevent sewers overflowing during heavy rain.

While he acknowledged that water companies have made significant steps forward in improving water quality in rivers and the sea, as well as reducing leakage, he argued that the industry “could and should do more” to secure water supplies.

Currently, up to 20% of water is lost through leaks from water companies’ own networks and customer supply pipes.

In addition, two thirds of sewers carry both sewage and rainwater and intense periods of heavy rain can make sewers overflow, causing pollution, floods and the failure of water quality in England.

Lord Smith said: “Clean, healthy and readily available water is essential for people’s health and wellbeing as well as for economic growth.

“But a changing climate will reduce the availability of water, and population growth increase demand for it. Water companies need to make better use of their resources by sharing water within their networks and with neighbouring companies.”

He added that water companies needed to help their customers be more water efficient while at the same time, leading by example by reducing leakage further.

“2012, with its drought and floods, put the resilience of the water network into sharp focus. One in every five days saw flooding in 2012, but one in four days were in drought, including hosepipe bans affecting over 20 million people,” said Lord Smith.

This year, through Ofwat’s periodic review process, water companies must set out their plans for investment in infrastructure and the environment over the next five years, as well as what they will charge their customers.

Lord Smith added: “Water companies have an opportunity this year to make big, long term improvements to their infrastructure through the periodic review process, and ensure the water industry in this country is fit for the future.”

Conor McGlone

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