Cordoned off street as water flows from a burst water main

Water companies told to do more to fix leaky pipes

Image credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

Water companies have been told that they need to do more about leaks by Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

Firms are using satellite technology, drones and underground listening equipment to identify leaks and many firms have doubled the number of teams dedicated to tackling the problems, industry body Water UK said. 

They are also planning “ambitious” targets for tackling leaks, the organisation said as Gove warned that he expected an improvement in performance.

Water UK, which represents the private water sector in the UK, also said many companies have doubled the number of teams seeking out and fixing leaks and are working with customers to help identify them quickly.

During the summer months there are often more new bursts on the water network as the ground dries and moves, weakening joints and causing cracks in pipes. The prolonged high temperatures this summer have also resulted in more pipe bursts than normal in a short period of time.

The meeting was called following low levels in some reservoirs and the introduction by North West supplier United Utilities of a hosepipe ban from 5 August.

Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts 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.

“As well as increasing their work on leakage now, companies are all currently finalising plans to cut leakage by at least a further 15 per cent, with some companies preparing to go even further.”

Gove said: “I met the heads of a range water companies today, specifically those where leakage has been an issue.

“While extreme weather events do pose a challenge to the industry, they are a consequence of climate change with which we all have to deal. We all agreed water companies must do more to adapt and prepare for changing weather patterns.

“I have asked the companies I spoke to today to raise the bar on tackling leaks and agree ambitious new targets when they submit their business plans to Ofwat [the industry regulator] in September.

“The Government, Ofwat and customers expect water companies to improve their performance.”

Water firms present at the meeting were: South Staffordshire (also representing its subsidiary Cambridge water), Bristol, Severn Trent, Thames, Yorkshire, Essex and Suffolk (via parent company Northumbrian), Portsmouth and United Utilities.

In December the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) said that 3.1 billion litres of water were lost every day from leakage in England and Wales.

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