Utility Week Live explores… smart utilities and water

Carly Leonard recently started in the water sector in a top environmental role with Anglian after eight years leading the Peterborough Environment City Trust (PECT). Passionate about ecology and tackling climate change, she says she is driven by “a strong sense of personal responsibility to make a positive difference.

“I wanted to understand the challenges of the water sector and see how I could best support protecting and enhancing the environment from the unique perspective of a water company.”

She says Anglian’s “long history” of working with partners and building relationships will be key to its success in dealing with environmental issues.

We caught up with Leonard in advance of her slot on the Smart Utilities Stage at Utility Week Live to find out more.


Carly, what role do you believe digital technology will play in addressing environmental problems at Anglian?

CL: Digital technology has huge potential, and the key will be how we best harness it. We have an incredible team working in this area of the business. Using technology to bring together complex data sets and enable interpretation has multiple benefits.


What can we look forward to hearing about from you at this year’s Utility Week Live show?

 We have been working on an amazing digital twin of a chalk stream with partners Microsoft and Avanade which shows some of the power of using digital technology to understand and inform decision-making now and in the future. I am looking forward to sharing this at Utility Week Live.


Water companies have had a tough time of it in terms of public perception over the last year. In terms of environmental performance, what has to change to rebuild trust?

The public are rightly concerned about the environmental challenges we face. Water companies have a really important role in providing drinking water and returning water back into the environment. The scale of the operation is immense and there are examples across the sector where things have not been as they should.

We need to learn from them and continue to work on protecting and enhancing the environment through all that we do. Trust is built by delivering on our promises, being open and transparent, and working with others to achieve shared outcomes.

There’s no shortcut to this.


What opportunities do Anglian’s areas of operation provide to enhance biodiversity?

We have a number of ways we can enhance biodiversity through our work. They include on our own land, where there are opportunities for enhancing land for biodiversity either through biodiversity net gain linked to development, or our wider biodiversity duty and ambition.

We have 7,000 hectares of land, 40% of which is classified Sites of Special Scientific Interest. In our catchments, meanwhile, we are working with farmers and others to reduce water quality risks through sustainable farming or habitat creation or restoration.

Finally, in the wider landscape there are nature-based solutions for water treatment, water resources and flood risk management, carbon offsetting through habitat creation on land and sea, and Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP) investment to improve river health and therefore aquatic biodiversity.


What are the environmental priorities for Anglian right now?

In autumn 2023 we submitted our 2025-2030 business plan for approval to Ofwat. As you can imagine, there are many areas of priority that link to environmental and social prosperity.

They include demand reduction, water resource planning, increased water recycling network capacity to tackle spills, nutrient removal, and monitoring. The business plan contains our environment programme which forms part of the WINEP process. Our WINEP outlines our priority areas and spend against each of the obligations we must meet.


How do you view the potential of nature-based solutions to combat some of the environmental challenges we face?

 Nature-based solutions offer huge potential to overcome challenges and provide multiple benefits. For example, treatment wetlands can remove nutrients, provide habitat, and reduce overall carbon against a grey solution. Surface water management can provide habitat and amenity value while providing flood protection.

We have an ambitious programme of nature-based solutions in our business plan for 2025-2030, including an area the size of 100 football pitches of treatment wetlands and 52 new sustainable urban drainage schemes. We have also proposed a new way of working to pilot partnership working at scale on nutrients within catchments and sustainable urban drainage.

We want to work with other stakeholders on common outcomes to produce effective solutions with a range of wider benefits.


 What are some of the examples of current nature-based solutions at Anglian?

 We have great examples of treatment wetlands in operation that have proved to be incredibly informative for us and a great way to demonstrate the art of the possible with others. We’ve also got a long history of working with others on flooding through building trusted relationships with local authorities and working together on common goals.


Do you feel optimistic about facing the challenges ahead when it comes to climate change and protecting biodiversity?

I am deeply concerned about the challenges we face as a society with climate change and biodiversity. However, I have been working in this area for a long time, and I find reasons to be hopeful in national and global recognition of the scale of the issues, and some of the legislative frameworks and agreements to enable change.

People can feel overwhelmed, so we should remember to bring it back to what we can do individually – through the organisations we work for, and at home.


If there was one environmental challenge you could solve at Anglian right now, what would it be, and why?

One thing I’ve learnt in my fairly short time in the sector is that the challenges are complex – but they need to be worked on together to overcome them.

You can here more from Carly at this year’s Utility Week Live show. Register here now.