Water companies take leakage and their customers’ views of leakage extremely seriously.
Despite the natural focus on individual company targets, the total leakage for water companies last year was lower than the year before. This has been the trend for a number of years and is expected to continue.
Leakage is already down by more than a third since its worst point, and even more resources and investment are going in to fix the leaks that can be seen, and to locate and repair the more difficult ones that are not visible.
The water companies get invaluable support from communities and individuals in their efforts to save water, and companies work to build upon that trust by ensuring they do their bit.
But with more than 17 billion litres of water going down hundreds of thousands of kilometres of pipes and through millions of joints, valves and pumps each and every day, consumers can trust in the fact that the cost to make the system completely watertight would be simply unaffordable for their water bills.
The water companies therefore work very closely with Ofwat and the Environment Agency to find a level that is a sensible balance, and water company targets are set for that level. In the water industry, this target level is called the sustainable economic level of leakage.
Imagining a situation where there is zero leakage is ultimately not that helpful, and confuses consumers, who ultimately just want to see evidence that the best possible job is being done to conserve water.
It is fair to focus on the agreed leakage targets.
Local water companies who miss their target must expect tough questions from their customers, and be prepared to explain fully exactly how they will be putting things right.
For example, the extremely harsh winter of 2010-11 caused high levels of bursts and damage. This was the second extremely cold winter in succession. Further damage has been done by ground shrinking in droughts and hot weather.
Water companies have to take these engineering challenges into account, and be prepared to convince customers that the best possible job is being done for the most appropriate cost.