Looking forward to the future of water

‘Climate change and population growth are providing us with huge resource issues that need tackling urgently’

Reducing the amount of water lost through leaks has always been a priority for water companies’ customers, understandably so. A huge amount of work goes into this – finding and fixing leaks on thousands of kilometers of water main is an enormous task – but it’s no surprise Ofwat has imposed some tough sector-wide targets in its latest price review. It has equally high expectations around cutting pollution, supply interruption and consumption.

The water industry is seeking to build customer trust, which has generally improved in recent years, and will be focusing heavily on these critical areas, of course, with the support of the supply chain.

British Water members will be looking at how they can partner with water companies and key stakeholders to bring about real change and improvements, while continuing to provide the essential water and waste water services we rely on daily.

Water companies more attuned to environmental challenges

One of the challenges faced is maintaining our ageing infrastructure at a price affordable to customers. Minds will be focused on driving operational efficiencies over the next five years, rather than projects requiring big capital expenditure.

This will be underpinned by the use of data analytics, sensors, artificial intelligence and robotics to support leakage detection, flood resilience, asset management and water-resource planning. UK technologies and expertise have a major role to play in addressing global environmental challenges as well as those closer to home.

Our industry has a long history of world-changing innovation. As chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, Joseph Bazalgette pioneered modern sewerage during the late-19th century, cleaning up the Thames.

British Water members continue to lead the way, creating new supplies, building treatment works, reusing and recycling water, laying pipes, preventing sewer blockages, detecting leaks, and cleaning up rivers and seas.

The rising levels of water stress

It’s a challenging time for the industry: we’re in critical water stress. Climate change and population growth are changing the global landscape and providing us with huge resource issues that need tackling urgently.

But it’s also an exciting time. British Water is looking to work closely with the water utilities, industry, academia and innovation hubs to connect across geographic boundaries. We have  a real opportunity to collaborate, educate and innovate to change the way we do things for future generations.

I’m proud the UK was the first G7 nation to set a legally binding target to cut carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050, and that the water industry has an even more ambitious target of 2030. Our members are already finding ways to use less energy and close the resource loop by, for example, extracting biofuel and fertiliser from sewage and reusing waste water.

There is also some impressive collaborative work in catchment management, where water companies work with the supply chain, local authorities, farmers and landowners to encourage sustainable land management.

The industry also recognises public concern about micropollutants, including residual pharmaceuticals, reaching watercourses. Some of our members boast the expertise and technical capability to start to address this highly sensitive issue.

Preparing for future water challenges

During the industry’s next investment cycle, from 2020 to 2025, I’d like the supply chain and water companies to collaborate even more closely to protect rivers and reduce water-quality risks.

I strongly believe we need to engage customers each step of the way and drive awareness of the amazing work done in our industry, of the huge improvements in drinking water quality and the environmental standard of rivers and bathing waters, but also the water stewardship role we all have, particularly around reducing consumption.

I’m optimistic. People are focusing more and more on protecting our natural world, and water plays a vital role. Where will we be in the next 20, 50, 100 years? Our members are already thinking about that and planning for it.