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Freeze-thaw report shows that water industry has learned the lessons from the winter of 2018

UK water companies have learned from the winter of 2018 and successfully managed a more challenging freeze-thaw at the start of 2021 with little-to-no customer impact, according to a new report ‘Freeze-Thaw 2020-21’.

The report by industry body Water UK finds that collaboration between water companies, regulators, government and consumer groups, has resulted in the industry going into the 2021 freeze-thaw period in a stronger position to manage an unprecedented winter with minimal customer impact.

Freeze-thaw, a phenomenon which results in water pipes bursting as periods of cold weather are followed by a warming, occurs every winter. In 2018, freeze-thaw was particularly disruptive and prompted the industry to work collectively to ensure that lessons were learned.

Despite the freeze-thaw 2021 bringing burst-rates that were 25% higher than in 2018, the improvements by water companies resulted in significantly enhanced resilience and good customer outcomes with learnings from 2018 being adopted across the industry, including:

  • Improved warning systems – Freeze-thaw is now an indicator built into companies’ models for supply/demand impacts
  • Clear escalation processes and procedures within companies – Executive-level awareness and involvement in incidents now begins early with the establishment of the industry’s national incident response group
  • Reprioritising staff deployment – When trigger points are hit, companies respond by redeploying staff to focus on operational priorities in order to ensure better customer outcomes
  • Customer communications – All water companies now run customer-facing campaigns via multiple platforms to communicate the impact of frozen or burst pipes and what preventative measures can be taken

The preparedness of the industry was made even more imperative given the challenges faced by companies managing the risks posed by COVID-19 and the end of the EU transition period.

As changes in climate increase the risks of extreme weather variability during the winter, it’s clear that there will need to be further collaboration between the industry, government and the regulators to reduce burst rates and ensure continuity of service for customers.

Commenting on the report, Charlotte Owen Policy Manager at Water UK said:

“The last year has presented water companies with a number of unique challenges including COVID-19 and the end of the EU transition period. This winter saw some sustained periods of freezing temperatures which also brought with it significant challenges.

“Fortunately, thanks to the robust procedures put in place as a result of our learnings from 2018, the preparedness of water companies meant that the impact on customers was significantly reduced. It’s vital that the industry continues to build on these learnings and that’s why the upcoming Leakage Routemap will be crucial to furthering our understanding of freeze-thaw and its impact on our systems.”

You can access the full report here: Freeze-thaw 2020/21: Recommendations from an unprecedented winter