Water companies credited for maintaining supplies in hottest summer since records began

The UK water companies undertook an extensive range of activities to ensure water resources in the long, hot summer of 2018 were successfully managed, according to a new analysis by Water UK.

Summer 2018 was the hottest in England since records began back in 1910. Rainfall across the whole of the country over the 3 months of May to July was only 54% of the long-term average, with even less falling in August – only 43% of the normal amount of rain for the month.

The dry summer put substantial pressures put on water supplies – however, the water companies successfully maintained supplies despite a substantial and prolonged in rise in demand for water, and without the need in England for hosepipe bans.

Summer also typically sees more bursts on network when the ground dries out and moves, causing pipes and joints to crack.

The briefing paper sets out the range of actions taken ahead of and during the summer to ensure customers got the water they needed and outlines the actions currently being taken over the autumn and winter to prepare for 2019.

At the peak of the heatwave, Southern Water put an extra 100 million litres of water a day above the normal into supply, while Severn Trent Water and Yorkshire Water put an extra 300 million litres in respectively. Thames Water put in an additional 450 million litres of water a day.

Water UK said the companies’ ability to meet substantial increase in demand reflected the following measures:

  • Forward planning
  • Operational actions
  • Investment

Commenting on investment, the paper says

“Much of the potential impact of the hot summer was avoided due to ongoing high levels of investment by the water industry” – currently running at around £8 billion per year.

Investment in grids enabled the water companies to move water around their networks to where it was needed most. Other actions included:

  • Bringing water sources online that were out of service
  • Accelerating capital work to bring sites which had been out of supply back into operation
  • Thames Water started up Beckton desalination plant – the plant is now undergoing maintenance to ensure it will be able to reliably sustain prolonged usage in event of prolonged drought next year.
  • Some companies put drought plans into action – but hosepipe bans were avoided

In addition, all the water companies promoted water efficiencies messages to their customers via social media, text messages and letters. The summer also saw significantly increased levels of media activities to get the message across via radio, TV, billboards, national and regional advertising and news roadshows

Increased activity to identify and fix leaks included using drones, satellite imaging, improved telemetry and acoustic logging leak detection technologies, and the deployment of extra repair teams on the ground.

Stress-testing for more extreme weather scenarios

For autumn 2018 and into the winter, the water companies have taken actions in three broad categories:

  • Planning ahead
  • Tackling leakage
  • Optimising asset reliability

Looking further ahead, they have also been working with the Environment Agency to consider the impacts of the reasonable worst-case scenario and stress-testing against more extreme rainfall scenarios.

The analysis says the water companies are continuing to assess critical asset maintenance to ensure facilities are available when needed – which could include deferring planned maintenance at key periods or developing new sources.