World Water Day – How we can ensure resilience of our water supplies

How does water fit into your life and your business? Have you thought about where your water comes from, or where is goes when you’ve used it? More importantly, do you think about what might happen if it didn’t arrive as you expected, or if more appeared than you could cope with? Have you considered the daily essentials that you, your business or your supply chain rely on that simply wouldn’t be there without water?

If we’re honest, it’s difficult to think of anything we make or consume that isn’t dependant on this resource that too often we take for granted.

As a provider of vital infrastructure and water services we need to plan against long term horizons. For the last ten years we have been highlighting the challenges of a growing population and a changing climate. As in many places around the world these challenges manifest themselves as pressure on the water supply, and an increasing risk of flood. It is my belief that maintaining a reliable, safe and affordable service in the face of these challenges requires a far broader strategy than you might assume, and a truly collaborative approach with customers and across all sectors of business.

To put this in context, by the 2050s, demand for water will exceed available supply in many catchments in England, and some in Wales and Scotland. Without action, demand during drier periods may not be met in many areas; in our region we currently have a 12% surplus – but that could turn into a 17% deficit in 2050. To add to this we expect to see increased frequency and severity of flooding from all sources: coastal, fluvial and surface water.

Contributing to this swing from surplus to potential deficit is the rapid economic and housing growth we expect over the next 25 years. The Anglian Water region supports three of the five fastest growing cities, by housing growth, as classified by the Centre for Cities. Our regional population is expected to jump by 20 per cent (around one million) over the next 25 years compared with population levels in 2011–2012. This would mean around 500,000 new properties for us to serve.

We’re committed to playing our part in facilitating sustainable growth, with timely and efficient delivery of infrastructure and services. To ensure the resilience of our water supplies, we will need to invest in both innovative approaches that encourage customers to reduce the amount they use, and new supplies to top up what we already have available. Customers expect us to be prepared to cope with the challenges we face, at the same time as ensuring bills are affordable. The costs of delivering long-term benefits must be shared fairly between current and future customers. To do this we can not be restricted by the infrastructure models of the past. The only way to successfully meet these challenges is to approach them in a much more open and collaborative way.

Building cross sector relationships will be critical to our success. That is one of the reasons that I was delighted to take over as Chair of BITC’s Water Taskforce in October 2017. I want to build on the excellent work that Steve Mogford and United Utilities have done, but also to recognise that the water landscape is changing rapidly. Since October we have been looking at the emerging issues and challenging what is achievable in three years, all to develop a new strategy for fresh challenges.

The strategy will run from 2018-2021, building on existing programme areas of healthy ecosystems and water resilient cities. We will add a new area, looking at the circular economy of water and introduce four cross cutting themes: innovative financing, digital, SMEs and social outcomes. In developing and delivering this strategy we will work across other focus areas to ensure a ‘one BITC’ approach. But we recognise we will have to work with other organisations too, so that we deliver complementary, added value outcomes.

Below, I have set out some of the recent work from the Water Taskforce. This is just a snap shot – much more is captured on our Smart Water Hub. In July 2017 we were named as BITC’s Responsible of the Year and so for the last nine months we have been working hard to promote the positive role that business can play in society. One thing that every business can do is make a positive contribution to ensuring that we maintain a sustainable water cycle.

The first place to start is to take a look at your home, and your business: find out where your water comes from, and where it goes once you’ve used it. Who and what else relies on it in your local area? And then challenge yourself to take some action to make your interaction with water more sustainable. You could always join our work with the Water Taskforce – greater collaboration can only lead to greater success.

Healthy Ecosystems

BITC works with business to improve the health of the natural assets on which we rely. The Water Taskforce will continue to work on healthy ecosystems over the next three years, sharing our experience with partners within and outside the organisation. In the UK we have been working with WRAP and the Rivers Trust on the Courtauld 2025 agreement on water stewardship (launched today). This agreement encourages business to participate in collaborative projects to improve the health of water, soil and habitats in river catchments across the UK. BITC is working with its members to deliver collaborative projects in Cumbria, East Anglia and the South West.

This is not just a UK issue. BITC is working with the hotel sector internationally, through their International Tourism partnership (ITP)  to embed water stewardship strategies in their portfolios. Today BITC are launching ITP’s Water Stewardship Report, which sets out six steps for water stewardship in the hotel sector.  ITP has commissioned research with Ecolab and Greenview showing that most of the top hotel growth markets are located in destinations with high water stress and an undervalued cost of water, but also the most water-intense hotel regions in the world have the highest risk of water cost increase. ITP will be supporting water stewardship within the hotel sector by benchmarking water use in hotels globally using the Hotel Water Measurement Initiative (HWMI) and integrating water data in our Hotel Footprinting Tool in the summer 2018.

Water Resilient Places 

Each winter since 2015 has brought flooding to both urban and rural parts of the UK, with some areas hit more than once. The BITC’s water resilient places programme looks at how we can harness the natural environment to increase resilience to these events. This week, BITC will be sharing the opportunities for water resilient cities at the Mayors Green Summit in Manchester. We will highlight how green spaces can increase resilience and create a healthy environment in Manchester, and what this means for resilience in the UK.

Achieving resilience in the UK will be enabled by innovations in how we do business to support a thriving natural environment. This vision was set out by the UK Government in its 25year plan for the environment, which highlighted our healthy ecosystems and water resilient cities as examples of good practice. The Water Taskforce’s new strategy includes some previously unexplored cross-cutting themes, and the group is already working in the areas of digital technology and data, and innovative financing, which will be catalysts in achieving this vision. At the beginning of March Anglian Water supported BITC in delivering a Digital Deep Dive, in partnership with Capgemini, to look at how digital transformation would deliver better outcomes for the environment. The outcomes from this deep dive are now being developed into pilots for the rural, urban and smart growth areas, you can watch a short film of the day here. On 28th March, BITC will hold a roundtable chaired by Lloyds and the Environment Agency, for business to discuss how financing can unlock opportunities for the green economy.  

The Circular Economy of Water

SMEs and our communities will be central to resolving the issues we face in water. Water is the ultimate circular economy, with significant challenges arising when we disrupt this cycle. Plastics have had a high profile this year and there are some fantastic cross-sector programmes emerging to address this issue. Many of these involve complex conversations between sectors concerning product composition, manufacturing processes, recycling routes and markets. The water industry announced in January that it would work with City to Sea to roll out its Refill Campaign nationally. Anglian Water has been working with them in Norwich since 2017 and it’s a scheme that both customers and small businesses have been quick to embrace. BITC’s business connector in Lewisham is now working with the GLA’s Refill London programme to get local businesses on the high street to provide water bottle refill points too. Their connectors have already signed up 19 businesses on Catford and Lewisham high streets. This will enable the local community to access drinking water via an app and reduce single use plastic water bottles.

Peter Simpson is chief executive at Anglian Water

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