Newly released figures show that the majority of water companies beat their targets on leakage in 2018/19.
The updated statistics on the Discover Water website also show water quality has been maintained at a high standard, passing 99.95% of tests. Supply interruptions are also down by an average of 36%, and water companies have reduced greenhouse gas emissions from their operations by more than 15%.
However, the data shows that the amount of water used per person in England and Wales has risen year-on-year, from 141 litres to 143 litres per day.
Out of 16 companies who set a leakage target for 2018/19, 11 exceeded this goal. They were Anglian, Bristol, Cambridge, Welsh, Essex & Suffolk, Northumbrian, Portsmouth, South East, United Utilities, Wessex and Yorkshire Water. A further three – SES, South Staff and South West hit their targets.
The two to miss their targets, according to Discover Water’s data, were Affinity with 196 million litres of water leaked per day against a target of 168 million and Thames (690 million vs 612 million).
In 2017/18 seven companies met or exceeded their leakage targets.
A further three companies – Bournemouth, Hafren Dyfrdwy, Severn Trent and Southern – were not included in the figures, either because their targets are set to 2020 or because the areas they supply changed during the year.
The overall volume of water being leaked is down by 10 million litres per day. Water UK, which manages the figures stressed there was still more work to do to meet the industry-wide proposals to reduce leakage 16 per cent by 2025. In Ofwat’s draft determinations this figure was raised to 17 per cent, taking into account the cumulative targets of all the companies.
Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said: “Thanks to the extra effort and investment made by companies in the face of some challenging weather conditions, there has been substantial recovery from the leakage position last summer when we saw an unusually high level of pipe bursts. Water companies spent millions of pounds extra in the last year identifying more leaks and fixing them more quickly.
“But although the overall picture on leakage has improved compared with last year, we are still determined to do better as an industry, and it remains one of our highest priorities. Leakage is down by a third since the mid-90s, but we intend to go even further which is why we’re now putting in place the most ambitious leakage programme for 20 years.”
Water UK pointed to the industry’s Public Interest Commitment as a signal of its determination to make significant changes over the next few years, including the aim of tripling the rate of sector-wide leakage reduction by 2030. This is part of a wider long-term strategy to reduce per capita consumption of water and invest in more water transfer and storage.
The trade body said companies were using technology and innovation to advance this cause, including deploying satellite technology, drones, and underground listening equipment to spot less obvious leaks in the system. Many companies rescheduled non-urgent work to focus as much effort as they could on repairing leaks – including leaks in customers’ own pipes, which fall outside companies’ responsibilities, the group said.
Eliane Algaard, Northumbrian Water’s Water Director, welcomed the figures, saying: “We have set ourselves a target of reducing leakage from our water network by 15% in the North East and 17.5% in Essex and Suffolk by 2025.
“These latest figures show we have already made significant strides towards achieving this, by looking at any and all possible methods – no matter how out of this world they may be – and putting more resources into hunting down and repairing leaks. This has put us into an industry-leading position in Essex and Suffolk, having started at a very challenging position in 2017/18.
“The support of our customers through the leakage portal, letting us know when they spot a leak, has also been brilliant, adding thousands of pairs of eyes to the work we do to find leaks, so we can fix them.
“However positive the latest figures are, we will continue to use existing and new ways of finding and sorting leaks, to continue to drive down the leakage of this very valuable resource.”
However, Robert Light, chair of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “It will be a huge concern and disappointment to customers that the majority of companies that failed their leakage targets are in the south east of England, where water resources are under the most intense pressure and people have growing concerns over the long-term security of their supply. The failure of these companies risks undermining the wider industry’s efforts to encourage customers to play their part in saving and valuing water.”
“It casts serious doubts over whether repeat offenders like Thames Water and Affinity Water will be able to achieve the more challenging future targets that the regulator Ofwat has set the whole industry and that customers want to see.”