The amount of water lost through leakage has risen for the second year running, prompting the water watchdog to urge companies to act.
A report on resilience published today (30 August) by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) shows overall leakage levels rose by 1.5 per cent in 2017/18 to 3,170 million litres per day.
CCWater said the freeze-thaw event in March will have contributed to the increase but is not “fully responsible” for it.
The watchdog revealed nine water companies failed to meet their leakage targets for the year. The biggest leakage increases were seen by Portsmouth Water (+8.2 per cent), South Staffs (+3.6 per cent) and United Utilities (+3.3 per cent).
Pete Aspley, wholesale director at South Staff Water, said: “We are disappointed with our performance last year; we missed our targets by a small margin and are already working hard to ensure that we meet the current year targets, and that our performance meets customers’ expectations in the longer term.”
He added: “We have already increased the levels of resource deployed to both find and fix leaks along with the utilisation of technologies such as drones and satellite imagery. We continue to explore a number of innovative techniques that we believe will further enhance performance.
“We have set ourselves challenging reduction targets for the future, these will be set out in detail within our business plans that are due to be submitted to Ofwat early next week.”
A spokesperson for United Utilities said: “When we consulted with our customers on our business plan for 2015 – 2020 their overriding concern was affordability. A clear majority of all customers said UU should meet but not exceed regulatory requirements to minimise bills.
“Reducing the level of leakage beyond the economic, regulatory level of leakage would have increased bills. We have met our regulatory leakage target for the last 12 years, however in our new business plan for 2020 – 2025 we have ambitions to go further through more innovative leakage control methods which can deliver more at a lower cost.”
At the other end of the scale the largest reductions were made by Hartlepool (-3.4 per cent), Dee Valley (-3 per cent) and Essex and Suffolk (-2.8 per cent).
The nine companies to miss their targets for 2017/18 were Bristol, Dee Valley, Cambridge, South Staffs, Essex and Suffolk, Portsmouth, Severn Trent, Thames and Yorkshire.
Ofwat has challenged companies to reduce leakage by 15 per cent between 2020 and 2025. CCWater is calling for companies to act to ensure suppliers are resilient and reliable particularly considering the hot, dry early summer which highlighted the pressures on water resources.
Karen Gibbs, senior policy manager at CCWater, said: “Water companies must take action to reduce leakage and improve the resilience of their networks, if they want to encourage consumers to commit to using water wisely themselves.
“Although companies do have plans to reduce leakage in 2020 -25 their customers will expect to see this happening now.”
A spokesperson from Ofwat, said: “These figures are further evidence that we need a game change across the water sector.
“We’ve thrown down the gauntlet for water companies to cut leakage by 170 billion litres a year – enough to meet the needs of everyone in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and Cardiff combined – 3.1 million people. As we have demonstrated recently, any company which isn’t getting to grips with leakage will face consequences.”
The regulator recently confirmed the £120 million payments and penalties package Thames Water will pay for its poor leakage performance. The water company has since revealed it has launched a three-pronged aerial attack in its hunt to find and fix leaky pipes.
A Water UK spokesperson said: “Leakage is a big priority for the industry. We know how important it is for customers, and since the mid-1990s companies have successfully managed to reduce leakage levels by a third. But we also know there is more to do, which is why water companies are currently developing ambitious plans to cut leakage even further.”
CCWater highlighted Yorkshire Water as a company showing “greater ambition” beyond the regulatory target of 15 per cent as it aims to reduce leakage by 40 per cent by 2025.