What are water companies doing to deal with leaks?

woman watering her garden

woman watering her garden

With parts of England experiencing the driest conditions since 1976, millions of homes are facing the prospect of a hosepipe ban.

Water companies can’t be held accountable for the weather – but how are they performing when it comes to fixing leaks and building reservoirs to conserve water?

What is his record on the leak?

The daily demand for water in England and Wales in 2018 was 14 billion liters (three billion gallons).

But according to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO), another three billion liters of water is wasted every day due to leakage.

Leakage levels have been fairly constant for over 20 years.  Annual leak data for England.  ,

Leakage levels have been fairly constant for over 20 years. Annual leak data for England. ,

According to Water UK, about 347,000 km (216,000 mi) of water pipes date back to the 19th century, so dealing with leaks is a major challenge.

According to the Angling Trust, UK water companies are replacing around 0.05% of the network per year, compared to the European average of 0.5%.

Scottish Water says it has reduced leakages from 1.1 billion to 463 million liters per day over the past 16 years.

In England, leaks fell by 36% between 1994 and 2000, according to regulator OffWatt, but since then, have declined by only 8%.

By the 2050s, the demand for water in England is expected to exceed supply due to climate change and population growth.

And the most important way to bridge that gap will be to tackle leaks, the NAO report says.

Most water companies in England and Wales plan to reduce leakage by at least 15% between 2020 and 2025, working towards halving it by 2050.

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But in 2020-21, only 13 said they were moving towards meeting the 2025 target, according to the latest OffWatt annual report.

The water level in Ardingly Reservoir is observed to be low,

The water level in Ardingly Reservoir is observed to be low,

What about reservoirs?

Reservoirs are expensive and planning permission takes a long time. The last new reservoir – in Carsington in Derbyshire – was built in 1992.

Since then, the UK population has increased by about 10 million people and the effects of climate change are being felt.

“We have really failed to adequately prepare for these conditions,” Hannah Klok, professor of hydrology at the University of Reading, told BBC News.

“It’s a bad investment – there is no modern infrastructure capable of handling these situations.”

Hawn Ticket Reservoir, near Portsmouth, is the first new reservoir in the Southeast since the 1970s, having received planning permission last year.

But the project has proved controversial as the water companies involved have now changed their original plans – for it to be filled with Bedhampton spring-water – so sewage-treated wastewater will also flow into the reservoir.

Another possible answer to water scarcity is desalination – converting salt water into drinking water.

Thames Water opened the UK’s first desalination plant in Beckton in 2010, but it is currently closed.

East Ham MP Stephen Timms has claimed this is because desalination is energy-intensive and energy prices are currently high – but the company says it is closed for planned maintenance.

How does the water industry work?

It was privatized in England and Wales in 1989 and water and sewerage services are now provided by 32 privately owned companies.

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Their ownership varies. For example, Thames Water, the largest, is a Canadian pension scheme and owned by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, water and sewerage are provided by Scottish Water and Northern Ireland Water, which are state-owned.

two laborers on a dam

two laborers on a dam

Researchers from the University of Greenwich found that between 2002 and 2018, Scottish Water invested about 35% more per household on average than English water companies.

And English companies paid dividends of £18.9bn to their shareholders between 2010 and 2021 – almost half of the amount they had invested.

What about water transfer?

Scotland holds 90% of the UK’s freshwater reserves.

And the idea of ​​sending or selling water from Scotland to England – via shipping or pipelines – has been raised.

But in 2020, the Scottish government said it “will not be economically viable at this time”.

The UK Environment Agency says that only 4% of the water supply is transferred between individual water companies.

But many new water-transfer projects have been proposed, using rivers, canals and pipelines.

What about using less water?

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has committed to setting a target for water companies to reduce consumption as part of its 25-year environmental plan.

The current level of consumption in England is 141 liters per capita per day, up from 85 in the 1960s.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) says it needs to be degreased by about 35 liters.

It has made consumption reduction its priority action for 2022.

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Water companies want to increase the proportion of metered homes from 52% in 2019 to 83% by 2045.

“The reluctance to have government-mandated water metering – completely common in many other countries and for other utilities in the UK – reflects the need for a public debate about risks, solutions and costs,” the NIC said.

“An electric shower for 10 minutes uses 130 liters of water, which is the average daily consumption of a person,” said NIC President Sir John Armitt.

“If we know we’re paying for it and we know how much we’re using, it can be an incentive to use less”.