Building resilient water supplies in southeast England

In August, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) released a joint letter with the support of regulators in which they set out the steps they think are needed to build resilience in water resources management in England.

This included increased ambition in company business plans for 2020 to 2025; regional water resource planning that transcends company boundaries and identifies optimum solutions for the region, and the nation as a whole. It also included greater use of markets and competition to ensure solutions are delivered efficiently; clear, joined-up direction from government and regulators, including developing a national policy statement and national framework for water resources; and a responsive regulatory approach to deal with issues as they arise.

It is clear from this list that the role of regional groupings for water resource planning and management is becoming crucial. It was acknowledged that “greater co-ordination of [regional] water resource management plans is required to meet the challenges  we face”.

The Defra guidance confirms the approach taken by the Water Resources in the South East (WRSE) group over recent years.

WRSE is a sector-wide partnership that has come together to examine and resolve issues to make the best use of water resources, by ignoring water company boundaries.

Formed in 1996, WRSE is going from strength to strength. It now covers the area of London and the Home Counties, and comprises six water companies: Affinity Water, South East Water, Southern Water, SES Water, Portsmouth Water and Thames Water.

It works alongside the Environment Agency, economic regulator Ofwat, the Consumer Council for Water, Natural England, Defra, Canal and River Trust, Greater London Authority and others.

WRSE’s work has underpinned the regional development of a water grid with almost 60 transfers, within and between water companies, moving more than 100 million litres of water every day.

The group’s work involves examining a range of different potential futures, covering extreme drought, climate change, water availability, population growth, environmental sensitivity and other factors.

World-class modelling is used to explore these future challenges to determine how we can ensure water is still available for people without causing adverse environmental impact, and to identify the long-term solutions that will offer the best value for customers, society and the environment.

The aim of WRSE is simple: to find better or new ways of sharing water by using existing sources, pipes and treatment works, and developing new sources of water and bigger, longer pipelines to move it further around the region.

Examples include Portsmouth Water and Thames Water each planning a new reservoir that can be shared with its neighbours, being developed in collaboration with Southern Water and Affinity Water respectively.  This is critically important as much of the southeast region is officially designated as being in serious water stress.

In addition, there are potentially greater pressures and challenges than those faced by other regions in the UK.

Top of the list is the increased population in expanding towns and cities; relatively low rainfall, higher water use by customers; and rising environmental pressures to keep more water in its natural home of wetlands, rare chalk streams, rivers and underground aquifers.

Find out more about the group and their work at