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30 Years of Progress: Cleaner, Safer, Better Water

July 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the privatisation of the water and sewerage industry in England and Wales. Our new report reflects on the the achievements of the industry while setting out the industry’s future plans and how companies will tackle the challenges ahead.

Before privatisation in 1989 beaches were routinely spoiled by sewage and the water infrastructure was crumbling after decades of underinvestment. Pipes were increasingly leaking and wildlife was declining in polluted rivers. It gave Britain the unwanted nickname of “the dirty man of Europe”.

In the last three decades we’ve more than doubled the number of our beaches classed as ‘excellent’and by investing £25 billion in environmental work rivers have improved so much that the otter population, once nearing extinction, is now thriving. Our efforts to clean up 10,000 miles of rivers and waterways have even resulted in wildlife returning to rivers that had been biologically dead since the Industrial Revolution - we’ve even seen salmon, trout and even seals returning to urban rivers.

We’ve invested nearly £160 billion to make our water world class.  We’ve cut leakages by a third and ensured customers are five times less likely to suffer supply interruption and 100 times less likely to encounter low pressure than they would have been 30 years ago. Our record levels of investment have allowed us to keep bills at around the same price as they were 20 years ago in real terms.

We’ve worked hard to ensure that every home has access to world class water. Today, our drinking water passes 99.96% of quality tests – meaning cleaner, safer water every time you turn on your tap.

As the climate continues to change and our population increases, new challenges are emerging for our water – and our environment. So, we’re looking ahead to the immediate future with an additional £50 billion investment planned over the next five years, as well as setting ambitious commitments for 2030. We aim to improve and protect a further 5,000 miles of rivers by 2025 and reduce leakage by a staggering 461 million litres a day by 2030. We’ve also put initiatives in place to eliminate the equivalent of 4 billion wasted plastic bottles and reduce net carbon emissions for the sector to zero. We want to continue keeping costs low, ensuring a decade of real-term reduction to bills by 2025 and developing a strategy to end water poverty.

We’ve achieved a  huge amount over the last 30 years and while we know the next 30 will bring their own unique challenges, we have the expertise, organisation and intelligently planned investments to ensure cleaner, safer and better water for many years to come.