According to the latest industry figures, water companies in England and Wales lost more than a tonne of liters to leaking pipes last year.
The industry and its financial regulator, Ofwat, say water companies lost an average of 2,923.8 million liters of water per day in 2021-22, which equates to 1.06 tonnes of liters over the year, although Ofwat said the figures remain provisional until it completes validation. checks.
The figure equates to the equivalent of 426,875 Olympic swimming pools or more than three and a half Lake Windermeres.
According to industry body Water UK, Thames Water lost 217 billion liters of water during the year. This week, the company announced that it would introduce a garden hose ban from August 24, affecting 15 million customers.
Severn Trent Water followed closely with 161 billion liters of leakage during the year, United Utilities with 151 billion liters of leakage, Yorkshire Water with 103 billion liters and Northumbrian Water with 69 billion liters lost.
Data from Water UK, shared with the Guardian, shows that total leakage has fallen slightly over the past five years, from 1.2 tonnes of liters per year in 2017-2018, and these figures are corroborated by Ofwat.
However, the volumes disclosed by each water company, according to Water UK, do not match those previously published by Ofwat in its annual service delivery reports. The regulator says this is because it introduced a new reporting methodology and had to recalculate past leak volumes to bring them in line with it.
Ofwat said it “has updated the leak performance reports for consistency, requiring all companies to report a three-year average” and that ahead of the PR19 five-year trading period (2019 -24) of the industry, “companies were able to report performance in different terms – for example, some used annual figures and others three-year averages or averages over a longer period”.
Feargal Sharkey, the musician and vice-president of the charity WildFish, said the changes suggested previous leaked figures were “essentially bullshit” because companies could choose how to present the figures, and showed “Ofwat has been held hostage by the water industry and suffers from a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome.
“People will no longer accept this kind of propaganda and Ofwat, with all its incompetence and flaws, needs to start behaving like a regulator,” he added.
As with polluting wastewater discharges, the sector reports its leakage volumes to the regulator after having them verified by external consultants hired by the water companies.
Each company assesses leaks using Ofwat’s methodology, a top-down approach based on a water balance and bottom-up calculation that looks at minimum nightly flows in discrete measured areas. The two assessments are then reconciled using a statistical ‘maximum likelihood estimation’ method, but given the complexity of the systems, there remains uncertainty around the figures.
Ofwat says provisional, unverified leakage volumes from 2021-22 are at ‘the lowest level since privatisation’, but performance is still not good enough and will continue to push water companies .
“Over the past 20 years we have imposed fines, penalties and guaranteed expense commitments totaling over £339 million specifically for leak-related failures,” an Ofwat spokesperson said.
“This money was used to improve performance and, where appropriate, the money was returned to customers at the expense of shareholders. Companies’ performance on leaks has improved in recent years, but it’s still not good enough… If it fails, we’ll take action to hold them to account.
A spokesperson for Water UK said water companies had pledged to “dramatically reduce leakage, building on recent announcements of the lowest on record with further significant reductions expected each year”.
“Companies are increasingly placing innovation and technology at the heart of these efforts. Smart grids, smart sensors, satellite technology and drones are all part of the arsenal deployed to detect and repair leaks faster than ever. »
The spokesperson said investments were needed to increase storage. “We have proposed and are progressing £14 billion in new investment to complete 18 projects including reservoirs and large-scale projects to move water across the country, enough to supply 10 million people.”
Defra said it had “already offered tough short-term and long-term targets for water companies to reduce water leakage and is proposing legally binding targets to reduce leakage by more than 30% by 2037.
“The government will continue to challenge those with the worst leak records to maintain their networks and reduce water levels that are unnecessarily lost. If we don’t see the changes we expect, we won’t hesitate to take further action.
Meanwhile, whole swathes of England have been officially declared to be in drought, including Yorkshire, Devon and Cornwall, the Solent and South Downs, Kent and South London (including East Sussex), Herts and North London, East Anglia, the Thames, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire. , and the East Midlands.
As a result, millions of people are being banned from using garden hoses, and some water companies have been issued drought orders that allow them to take more water from rivers and groundwater, potentially to the detriment environment because many rivers already have low flows.
The water sector has been widely criticized for its drought preparedness, poor pollution performance and large sums of money paid to directors and shareholders, prompting some, including the Labor Party, to ask for his renationalisation.