Water, a precious resource

Every day we supply an average of 2.7 billion litres of safe high-quality drinking water to nearly ten million people across London and the Thames Valley. It’s our statutory duty to provide this precious resource to everyone who needs it. We aim to do this in a way that has minimal impact on the environment – while keeping our customers' bills affordable and meeting the needs of an ever-growing population.

Reducing leakage is one of our highest priorities. It’s a massive task given the size, age, location and complexity of our network, and we must balance leakage reduction against its impact on customers’ bills. We publish monthly leakage reports to ensure transparency of our performance.

Although leakage is 27% lower than 15 years ago, we were still significantly above the leakage target we set ourselves for the end of 2018/19. The year has thrown us some challenges including the impact of the “freeze thaw” and the exceptionally hot summer in 2018 causing a spike in leakage. Despite this, we managed to achieve a small reduction in leakage since last year. We recognise that our performance needs to improve further and that we've not met expectations, finishing the year at 690 Ml/d (compared to 695 Ml/d in 2017/18).

We need to accelerate recent improvements as we strive to achieve our 2019/20 target of 606 Ml/d. We have completely overhauled our approach to leakage, including investing £376 million this year on leakage prevention and network maintenance activities and £1.7 billion for the current regulatory period. We’ve changed the management structure, increased the number of crews dedicated to fixing leaks by 21%, amended supply chain arrangements and introduced new processes allowing us to fix over 71,000 leaks this year. While the extreme weather events had an impact on our ability to reduce leakage, we saw a promising end to the year, with a 13% reduction between the last week of March 2018 and the same week in 2019.

We've learned important lessons from the freeze thaw incident in March 2018 and 96% of the commitments we outlined in our written response, submitted to Ofwat in September 2018, are either completed or on track. We've also seen a 60% reduction in large bursts causing property flooding since committing to invest c.£100 million extra in our largest trunk water pipes during this regulatory period. There's still plenty to do and although we're not yet where we want to be, we have made significant improvements.

See our full infographic.

We’re fitting water meters through a range of different programmes to help manage the projected shortfall in supply in our area which has been classified as seriously water stressed; which means demand for water is higher than the amount available. Metering is the fairest way for customers to pay, and our industry leading smart metering programme is also helping to reduce leakage and per capita consumption.

Smart metering data allows us to engage with our customers to help them understand how much water they’re using, lets customers track their water saving activities and take control of their bills. Hourly smart meter data allows us to quickly and accurately identify customer side leakage. We can identify where water is continuously flowing through a meter for a sustained period of time which indicates there may be a leak, either on the customer supply pipe or within the home.

We’re fitting smart water meters at all customers’ homes in our region, starting in London. In 2018/19 we installed 92,394 new smart enabled meters bringing to total to 326,768 and providing a leakage reduction of 12.13 Ml/d in 2018/19.

We’ve also installed 27,183 acoustic loggers, which help pinpoint leaks in our water infrastructure and this new technology detected 45.68 Ml/d during 2018/19.

Alongside metering and leakage management, encouraging water efficiency and delivering water savings programmes are essential parts of our long-term plans to manage water more sustainably. Our established programme promotes responsible use of water among our customers and highlights the benefits of saving water at home and in the workplace. We’re delivering water efficiency initiatives for households, businesses, schools, local authorities and housing associations. It is important we continue to engage with industry leaders that influence national projects and local legislation, and support and drive positive change with development of the Water Efficiency Strategy and Per Capita Consumption (PCC) consultation for the UK alongside Water Efficiency Leadership and Network steering groups.

Smarter visits

We can help save water and reduce our customers’ water and energy bills with our free Smarter Home Visits. They are designed to help customers understand how and where they can reduce water usage in their homes, including installing water saving devices and understanding how to detect a ‘leaky loo’. The programme has led to a 19.6Ml/d reduction in the amount of water customers are using since it was launched in 2015. We completed our 250,000th visit just after the close of the 2018/19 financial year.

Our free Smarter Business Visit programme involves qualified plumbers visiting organisations to review kitchen and bathroom facilities. They find and fix internal leaks, most commonly ‘leaky loos’, and recommend best solutions for the business and fit suitable water saving devices such as dual flushing systems and tap inserts. The programme has been extremely successful with over 6.7 million litres of water per day saved. It has also avoided the need to bring a water production site back into use at a cost of £9 million which would produce five million litres per day.

Online water calculator and water saving devices

We’re improving our website and making it easier to access online tools and find advice on how to save water. Our world leading online water and energy calculator helps households identify their water consumption, gives household specific advice, tips and recommendations on water saving devices. This is linked to water and energy costs and savings associated with hot water use in the home. This is also the first calculator to identify personal water use away from the home (e.g. at the gym). We continue to offer all household customers free water saving devices, which can be ordered online, over the phone and by post and sent directly to customers homes for self-installation.

Local Authority and Housing Associations

We continue to work with housing providers to deliver in-home visits for customers who need help saving energy, water and money. The collaborative nature of these partnerships means we can incorporate water efficiency into existing home-visit programmes and we have visited 5,255 households resulting in water savings of 393,600 litres/day in 2018/19.

Water efficiency schools programme

We have continued to deliver our school education programme for water efficiency, running across 50-80 schools each year. Each school that takes part in the programme gets practical and educational benefits, including a multi-visit programme of interactive workshops and a free Smarter Business Visit to reduce the schools water use. Over 5,000 students took part in our schools programme during 2018/19.

Partnership with Action for the River Kennet (ARK)

Since 2011, we’ve been working with ARK to show people how valuable water is. As part of an area-wide campaign, ARK has been running free ‘Water Matters’ activities and projects for schools and community groups in the Kennet catchment. It’s a hands-on education programme including raising trout and eels in special tanks in classrooms which are then released into local rivers. Over 90 schools have benefitted from ARK’s visits and over 1000 children have learnt about the challenges we face when sourcing drinking water from rivers, and the steps they can take to protect wildlife around local watercourses.

Incentives Scheme

In partnership with Greenredeem, we’ve developed a pioneering and innovative online incentive scheme to reward customers when they save water. This scheme establishes baseline water use for participating households and they are rewarded with points if their use reduces. These points can then be spent on rewards, a monthly prize draw or donate money to charity.

Water efficiency communications

Water efficiency is part of our day to day communications to our customers through social media and other channels. During summer 2018, we ran an innovative campaign using influencers on social media. Targeted water efficiency messages were shared on Twitter and Instagram by influencers on various subjects like cooking, fitness, gardening and parenting.

We’re committed to ensuring the 2.7 billion litres of fresh drinking water delivered direct to the homes of nearly 10 million customers across London and the Thames Valley every day is always of the highest quality. We conduct over 400,000 tests each year from reservoirs, treatment works and randomly selected homes and businesses. Samples collected from customer properties have been consistently achieving 99.96% compliance with our water regulator, the Drinking Water Inspectorate’s (DWI) tests. The samples that fail the very stringent requirements are well below anything that would cause any harm to public health.

We’re working hard to move closer to 100% compliance with water quality regulations. We’re working with the DWI to improve hazard reviews and increase investment to eliminate the risk of cryptosporidium; ensure the highest levels of monitoring and control; and make sure our employees have the right capability to maintain exceptional water quality.

To maintain our high standards of drinking water quality, we’ve continued to focus on identifying areas of our water network where there’s a higher risk from lead pipes. Lead pipes may have been used before the 1970s to connect individual properties to our network of mains. In total, 12,500 lead communication pipes – the largest in a single year – were identified and replaced across London and the Thames Valley in 2018/19. We’ve been working hard over many years to mitigate the potential risk to public health from the presence of lead pipes, and we’ve introduced specific initiatives and programmes, agreed with our customers and approved by our regulators, which have been highly successful. We have included a lead pipe replacement programme in our business plan for 2020-25.

During 2018/19 we’ve continued to explore more sustainable ways to reduce the amount of pollutants like pesticides and nitrates which get into the rivers and groundwater sources in the catchments where we abstract water. This ‘catchment management’ approach aims to tackle the problem of pollution at source, avoiding the need for additional water treatment which would affect the environment and our customers’ bills.

We’re launching our Smarter Water Catchments initiative as a way of looking at and protecting the environment in each river catchment to deliver multiple benefits such as enhancing biodiversity, creating new opportunities for partnership working and drive efficiency in the way we deliver our water and wastewater services. Learn more about our Smarter Water Catchments initiative.

We hosted a catchment management summit, with 100 companies committing to work together to improve river quality. Recognising catchment solutions are multi sector and highly interconnected, in May 2018, along with 50 organisations such as Coca-Cola and Asda, we made a pledge to improve catchment management to address increasing pressures to UK water.

The Smarter Water Catchments initiative is rooted in collaboration with farmers, businesses, Government and NGOs. In part, projects are designed to reduce contamination from farmland, forestry activities, roads and industrial areas. While delivery starts in earnest in 2020, during the year we have built relationships with catchment partnerships and worked on agreed catchment plans.

In partnership with farmers, we trialled a mutually beneficial initiative where soil is inverted rather than ploughed to avoid nutrients being washed into water sources. We’ve worked with local communities to improve data collection about the health of our rivers, for example, working with Earthwatch on the River Evenlode and River Chess to measure phosphorus and nitrates, and to count species.

Water is essential for everything we do - from having a drink, to cooking, washing our clothes and flushing the toilet. It’s also essential for a healthy environment and a prosperous economy. Many people think there’s plenty of water in the UK, but the South East of England is one of the driest parts of this country, and London gets less rain than Rome, Dallas and even Sydney. Our water supplies are being stretched as the number of people living in our area increases, at the same time as the amount of water that we can take from rivers and underground sources is reducing due to changes in the climate and the need to protect the environment.

Managing current water resources

First and foremost, it’s essential that we manage our current water resources efficiently and effectively. We’ll do this by:

  • Managing leakage: Reduce leakage to the challenging targets that are published in our submitted business plan for 2020-2025.
  • Metering: Continue to roll out of smart meters across our region to help customers understand and reduce the amount of water they use and provide us with vital information to understand and manage our network efficiently, including pinpointing and tackling leakage.
  • Promoting water efficiency: Help our customers to use water efficiently, for example, by offering all customers a Smarter Home Visit which provides a personalised water use audit and free installation of water saving devices. We’ll also work with local authorities and housing developers to encourage greater water efficiency in buildings, and with government to set the right framework and incentives to encourage water-efficient behaviour.

Water resources management planning

In combination with managing available resources effectively, we will also need to develop new sources of water. We forecast a significant water resources challenge in our area and the wider south east so it’s critically important for us to plan for the long term because the decisions and investments we make now will determine the level of service that we can provide to our customers into the future.

During the year we submitted our draft Water Resources Management Plan, outlining how we will ensure the sustainable delivery of water to our customers over the next 80 years, from 2020 to 2100, in the face of population growth and climate change. We ran a public consultation on the draft plan in spring 2018 and received over 540 representations, as well as other feedback from customers. In October 2018 we published a report explaining our consideration of the feedback and the changes we had made to our draft plan and ran a further consultation providing an opportunity for comment on the changes we had made to our draft plan.

We've reviewed all feedback and produced a document which sets out the comments received and explains how we have taken these into account, alongside new information – a summary document is available. Defra will review our revised draft plan and updated documents, and in consultation with the Environment Agency and other regulators, will decide whether to approve our plan, request further changes to our plan or recommend further scrutiny either through a public hearing or a public inquiry. Read more information about our Water Resource Management Planning.

Security of supply

We're responsible for ensuring we have sufficient water to meet our customers' demands. The security of supply index (SoSI) measures our ability to provide water in a dry year. It takes into account water resources, leakage, demand management and transfers of water that we make to other water companies, to assess our ability to supply water in a dry year.

We saw an improvement in performance during 2018/19, now at 98%, reflecting reductions in dry year distribution input and target headroom in the London water resource zone. Our region is split into six “water resource zones” and the result is attributable to the London water resource zone (WRZ) which was affected by the extreme weather causing higher than expected leakage. The risk remains low and does not affect the other five WRZs in our region.

About 70% of our water comes from rivers, and the remaining 30% from groundwater sources. Removing this water, a process known as abstraction, is regulated by the Environment Agency (EA) through its abstraction licensing process. During 2018/19, we achieved 99.95 per cent compliance with our daily abstraction licences. The table below shows our record of compliance with daily licences for public water supply over the last five years:

In 2018/19, we installed eel protection screens at our intakes where we abstract water at Hampton, Surbiton, Hythe End & Farmoor. These screens will help to protect eels from being drawn into our reservoirs and help the recovery of the endangered eel population. We also conducted investigations into the impact of groundwater abstractions at Hawridge for the River Chess and Bexley for the River Cray and undertook river restoration works on the Amwell Magna Fishery.

The Abstraction Incentive Mechanism (AIM) is an Ofwat scheme to reduce abstraction from sources that are considered to be environmentally sensitive. It is triggered when local rivers fall below an agreed flow. We have implemented AIM since April 2016 and have agreed 5 AIM sites with Ofwat and the Environment Agency, which are:

  • New Gauge - River Lee
  • Pann Mill - River Wye
  • Axford - River Kennet
  • North Orpington - River Cray
  • Pangbourne - River Pang

Last year we complied with AIM at all of these sites despite a dry year in which water resources were a challenge and one of our AIM sites was triggered for significant durations of the year.