Water companies plug their leaks

September 18, 2007 at 10:32 am

The Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat), reported earlier this month that the water industry has made good progress on the issue of leakage. A study of the annual returns from the UK’s 22 water companies has also shown a 25% increase (compared to last year) in the amount of money being invested to improve infrastructure and meet customer needs and expectations.

Last year, the industry spent £4.3 billion on building and maintaining new and existing facilities. The investment seems to have paid off as, throughout England and Wales, water companies easily met the industry target for reduction in leakage, which was set at 95 megalitres per day (Ml/d); one megalitre equals one million litres.

On average, companies reduced the volume of water lost by almost 160 Ml/d. Severn Trent was the only company not to meet the target, which was set at 17 Ml/d, missing it by 8 Ml/d. The company has committed to spending an additional £45 million to improve service provision and reduce leakage in 2007-08. Significantly, the extra money will come from shareholders, rather than being generated by increased customer charges.

So, just how much water are we losing to leaks in Britain?

Ofwat’s figures for 2006-07 give a UK leakage figure of 3,420 Ml/d (down from 3,575 Ml/d in 2005-06). Average daily water consumption in the UK is around 135 litres – so the water lost to leakage every day could supply 25 million of us with our daily water needs! If domestic consumers stuck to 50 litres per person per day (the minimum volume recommended by the World Health Organisation) plugging the leaks would save enough water to supply the entire UK population!

Why isn’t more being done?

Ofwat is working hard to tackle leakage, and sets each company a target based on the economic benefits of fixing leaks. Water is cheap, while fixing leaks can be a slow and expensive business. If targets were set too high, it would be cheaper for water companies to simply pump more water into the system rather than spend money on replacing and repairing pipes. But the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater), a body which represents the interests of the consumer, believes water companies should be making greater efforts to fix their leaks. CCWater particularly wants Ofwat to set new leakage standards for companies operating in drought-prone areas of the UK, penalising them if they fail to reach the targets.

Richard Sturt, Chairman of CCWater Southern, said: “Companies in drought hit areas must be seen to give priority to leakage reduction, particularly when they are asking their customers to conserve supplies.”

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