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from Water UK

theView from Water UK
27 July 2007


Companies unite in flood relief effort

In what is being billed as the worst episode of flooding in modern British history, water companies are joining forces to provide relief to those affected.

Pallets of bottled water, tankers, lorries and bowsers are being shared between water companies to help alleviate the problem in the Midlands.

Ultimately maintaining a supply of clean water to people in the areas affected by the floods is the most important consideration. In these situations the ethos of the water industry is always to pull together to minimise the risk and inconvenience to the public.

Water companies are also working with the Environment Agency, local authorities and emergency services to ensure this natural disaster is handled in the best way possible.

Contact: Barrie Clarke


Sewer transfer will remove 'unknown' burden

The transfer of private sewers to the statutory water and sewerage companies in England and Wales will address a hidden risk that could be affecting up to 10 million households.

The majority of private sewer owners do not realise they have responsibility for their sewers until something goes wrong. Transferring the responsibility of these sewers to water and sewerage companies will remove the risk of householders getting large and unexpected bills to carry out emergency repairs.

Water UK favours the automatic overnight option for transfer proposed in the consultation as we believe this will result in the lowest overall cost to customers and the quickest resolution of the current problems.

Press release

Defra announcement

Contact: Phill Mills

Water resources

EU on right track for resources management

The European Commission’s Communication on Drought and Water Scarcity will foster the debate on water quantity issues. It also identifies the right instruments to manage drought.

The Communication emphasises as a priority the need for introduction of demand management incentives and instruments to national policies.

Water UK supports this and believes that the overall approach to water resources management should be based on the most sustainable combination of options, including the development of new resources. This is important to maintain the balance between supply and demand.

Contact: Gaetane Suzenet

Climate change

Water industry’s vigorous response to the challenge of climate change

The government consultation on the Draft Climate Change Bill was a positive step in tackling the effects of climate change, supporting the principle of target-setting based on carbon budgeting over annual targets.

Along with our consultation response, Water UK has launched a new section of the website dedicated to water and climate change. Its purpose is to inform stakeholders of work already under way to adapt to the challenges we face and mitigate the industry's own impacts. Clearly, however, cooperation is key, and we are focused on collaboration for effective action to move this work on.

The Environment Agency is beginning to look at the carbon impacts of consent and discharge standards. We need this to filter down quickly to local and regional level.

At the same time, we need to work together to understand the drivers behind the risk-averse approach that companies tend to take on standards – which means we may be unnecessarily over-treating much of our water.

Water efficiency is critical to both mitigation and adaptation – this is a responsibility of us all. A mix of regulation, incentives and voluntary action will be needed, along with a regulatory regime that encourages the more efficient use of water.

Finally, we need legislation at both national and European level that takes full account of energy and carbon implications.

Press release

Defra Draft Climate Change Bill consultation

Contact: Bruce Horton or Sarah Wilson

EU regulation

Council is right to stress integration of economics

The use of economic instruments to achieve environmental objectives is a step in the right direction towards more sustainable EU policies across all sectors.

At the last Environment Council, the Ministers adopted conclusions on the 6th Environment Action Programme which sets the framework for actions at EU level.

The Ministers stressed the importance of the use of economic instruments to achieve environmental objectives.

Subsidies and cross-subsidies should in particular be addressed and this was one of the Council’s requests.

The equity issue is essential when some domestic water users may feel that they are being required to cover the costs of pollution from agriculture.

Contact: Gaetane Suzenet


Consultation on market competition in water and sewerage industries

Ofwat’s new consultation demonstrates, by its very title, the broad-ranging scope of the debate it intends to engender – there is now, apparently, more than one water and sewerage industry.

This view is consistent with many of the ideas put forward in the consultation (market analysis, cost allocation, accounting and structural separation). These could lead to a move away from a vertically-integrated supply chain managed by end-to-end companies – so far the model deliberately chosen by government for the industry – to more specialised organisations, some fully opened to competition while others remain pure monopolies.

The likely wide-ranging debate now launched should benefit from a discussion of the government’s objectives for the industry(ies) – including the protection of consumers – and whether these need to evolve in support of Ofwat’s proposals.

Contact: Jeanne Golay

Water environment

Catchment Sensitive Farming – why we hope the experiment is a success

Diffuse pollution from agriculture is widely recognised as one of the most serious problems affecting the water environment. It costs water companies, and their customers, millions of pounds every year to clean up.

That’s why the government set up the CSF programme and why the water industry is a strong supporter. The aim is to ensure that phosphates, nitrates and other pollutants do not pose a risk to public water supplies and the environment.

Now in its second year, there are 42 CSF offices in place covering 35% of England in 40 priority catchments and thousands of farmers are involved. Monitoring of catchments is also under way. Defra hopes to see real improvements on the ground through watercourse fencing, improved land use management and other measures aimed at protecting water quality.

However, continuation of the initiative beyond its planned 2 years will be largely dependent on the next spending review settlement. And targeting of limited resources remains a key issue.

However, the CSF and similar schemes tend to be good value compared with ‘point source’ solutions. That’s why we look forward to the day when all farming is catchment sensitive.

Contact: Bruce Horton


Rising debt and the role of Water Direct

Water UK has always seen Water Direct as a key measure in helping customers on benefits and in debt manage their water bills, yet the scheme could be helping many more people on low incomes who struggle to make ends meet.

Water Direct should be seen as complementary to the other measures offered by the water companies themselves – e.g. helplines, flexible payment arrangements, restart schemes, charitable trusts, and promotion of debt advice agencies.

Both Defra (in 2004) and the House of Commons Treasury Committee report on financial inclusion (last year) have recommended a review of the scheme by the Department for Work and Pensions, so far to no avail. Perhaps the latest findings by UKWIR on how the scheme is already helping the financially vulnerable will strengthen the case.

Water UK statement

Contact: Phill Mills


the View...

To the thoughtful outsider the world of regulated water companies must on occasions seem strangely conflicted. July 2007 is surely one such. The worst river flooding for generations has severely disrupted lives. Among the many difficulties people face, loss of mains water is arguably the worst. Arguably too, responsibility for the most basic ingredient of normal life makes water different from other services and causes the apparent tensions.

One tension is the time that must be taken to restore supply if a treatment plant is disabled. After taking care of hygiene and hydraulics, street by street help may be needed to ensure that taps left open do not add to the problems. Despite the understandable frustration, there is no simple switch comparable to reconnecting properties to the electricity grid when there is an outage.

Another is alternative sources of supply. In last year’s drought an authoritative report showed why building a national water grid was not viable. Now some would send in the bulldozers tomorrow. And while neighbouring water companies are underlining the industry’s public service ethos by working hard to relieve the plight of someone else’s customers, a consultation is published on increasing competition in the market.

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Related links

Flooding position paper

Rain everywhere but run-off has nowhere to go

National water grid position paper

Environment Agency report on large-scale water transfers

Water UK website:
Water and climate change

Water industry’s vigorous response to the challenge of climate change

Events in September

Water UK Innovation Forum: Managing water supply and demand through innovation
Wednesday 5 September

Climate Change Conference 2007
Wednesday 26 September

Water Calendar 2007