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Frozen pipes

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Water industry is better prepared for extreme weather

The water industry has today put forward plans to improve its handling of extreme weather events next winter and beyond.

In February 2018, the extreme weather event known as the “Beast from the East” brought a period of intense cold to much of the UK followed by a rapid return to warmer temperatures. This quick freeze-thaw caused a significant increase in burst water pipes due to the impact of ground movement triggered by the temperature changes. The bursts, on companies’ water mains and in customers’ own water pipes, resulted in interruptions to water supplies in many areas across the country.

In June this year Ofwat, the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) and the Consumer Council for Water published their respective views of how water companies responded to the events. Water UK’s report, submitted today to Ofwat, highlights the sorts of actions already being taken by water companies to improve their response to future extreme weather-related events. It also identifies areas for further collaborative work by the sector.

Commenting on the publication of the report, Michael Roberts, Chief Executive of Water UK, said:

“The impact of the ‘Beast from the East’ varied across the country, with Ofwat’s official report revealing that fewer than 3% of all customers were affected. But we’re sorry to say that in some areas significant numbers of customers experienced disruption and hardship, and we are determined to prevent this happening again in future. That’s why we are committing to collective action alongside the measures which companies have already put in place, to ensure that the industry is in a far better place to deal with extreme weather this winter and beyond.”

Companies since then have been taking action to ensure that they are in a better position to face extreme cold weather this coming weather, as set out in their plans for submission to Ofwat by 28th September.

Action being taken by companies – who are due to submit their individual action plans to Ofwat by today – falls under three broad categories:

  • planning and preparation: carrying out preparedness exercises, with lessons learnt from recent events, enhancing leakage detection and updating modelling scenarios
  • stakeholder and customer engagement: reviewing the effectiveness of wider communication strategies and understanding what worked well in the deployment of alternative water supplies, and improving communications to customers ahead of the winter
  • incident response: working proactively and collaboratively with multi-agency partners, such as Local Resilience Fora, and with the supply chain, to maximise the deployment of resources and facilitate a stronger response across larger numbers of affected customers.

Water UK has also identified priorities for further, collective action to complement what is already being done by companies:

  • agreeing an industry approach to planning for supply risk associated with extreme weather-related incidents
  • improving the arrangements by which companies make provision for alternative water supplies
  • improving the robustness of arrangements under which bulk supplies are provided between companies
  • improving engagement with affected customers
  • sharing insights on the use of big data to understand network performance better
  • enhancing customer side resilience

For each priority, the report identifies actions for companies collectively to take forward over the next 12 months, with particular emphasis on action in the shorter term.

The programme of activity needed to take forward the priorities will be overseen by a newly-formed Operations Strategy Group comprised of senior operations leaders from water companies. A quarterly progress report will be published through the Operations Strategy Group, and a fuller 12-month review of what has been achieved will be carried out by the end of September 2019.

The full report can be found here: Learning from the impacts of the 2018 freeze-thaw

Water UK Communications
0207 344 1805


The companies’ individual reports can be accessed below: