Water companies have insisted they are prepared to deal with bad weather likely to hit the UK this winter.

Companies have told Utility Week they have taken lessons from the so-called “Beast from the East” last winter and the subsequent freeze-thaw incident, which left 200,000 customers without water for at least four hours.

In a report looking at how companies dealt with the storm, Ofwat expressed disappointment at the response of some companies, especially as the severe weather was forecast in advance.

Water expert at PA Consulting, Richard Khaldi, said the regulator is likely to take a “much harder line” with any companies not prepared for a freeze.

A spokesperson for Ofwat told Utility Week it expects all companies to “show they have learned lessons and are prepared for whatever the weather brings”.

Since the incident, and the publication of Ofwat’s report, companies have been investing in improvements to the way they work during severe weather.

Thames Water was highlighted as one of the companies which didn’t perform well during the Beast from the East.

The firm said it has taken learnings from this and is improving its processes: “We have listened to our customers, learnt lessons and worked with other water companies as well as engaging with experts outside the industry to understand the impact of what happened during the extreme weather earlier this year.

“This has resulted in a number of improvements to benefit our customers and get us better prepared to meet future challenges.”

Wessex Water performed well during the Beast from the East, and said it began its preparations for this year’s cold weather back in the summer. “Every year our preparations for cold weather start in August when we ensure we have the right vehicles and equipment in place for engineers to fix problems and help customers should we face extreme conditions,” said a spokesperson.

“During this year’s Beast from the East we were able to ensure few customers were left without water as we used our multi-million-pound water supply grid, which allowed us to get water to where it was needed. We also invested heavily in leakage detection to minimise the amount of water lost from our network.”

Welsh Water, too, insisted it is prepared. “We have been investing record amounts to bolster resilience of our network and plan extensively to prepare for severe winter weather each year,” said a spokesperson.

Following the Beast from the East and Storm Emma, the firm said it has invested £4 million to implement several changes to improve its readiness for similar incidents in future.

Read the full analysis in Utility Week on 23 November

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