Why we all need to save water this winter and what water companies are doing

Posted in: Information Published: 23 November 2022

Despite the rain, England has still had the driest year since 1976

When it’s pouring with rain outside it’s natural to ask why we need to save water. But it’s important to understand how serious the situation is because of climate change.

This summer was the driest in the UK since 1995, and the second hottest summer on record. Temperatures exceeded 40◦ Celsius in some parts of the country for the first time.

In the hot weather we used more water, with peak demand increasing by 40% in some areas. This meant water companies had to supply hundreds of millions of litres of extra water each day – the equivalent of adding whole new towns to the network.

We rely on rainfall during winter to resupply our water sources, including reservoirs, lakes and rivers, and also to ‘recharge’ groundwater*. But despite all the rain, at the end of October England has still had the driest year since 1976 and parts of the country are still in drought.

So our water sources need longer to recover from the summer, and there could be high demand for water again next year. That’s why we need to save water this winter, even when it’s raining outside.

What about all the leaky pipes?

Leaks have fallen by 11% in England in the last few years

Tackling leaks remains a top priority for water companies, and leaks have fallen by 11% in England in the last few years. Water companies have steep targets for reducing leaks, including cutting them by 50% by 2050.

Efforts to repair leaks have been stepped up, with teams using advanced technology. Anglian Water has been using drones to detect leaks, and Cambridge Water has deployed ground penetrating radar. This year SES Water became the first UK water company to roll out smart technology across their entire network to help detect leaks in near real-time. This is directly reported to repair teams so they can respond rapidly, keeping customers supplied, and reducing the amount of water lost.

What about businesses and new houses?

Some water companies are offering discount schemes for business customers who substantially reduce their usage. Some are also offering discounted connection charges for developers who add homes to the network which are built with water efficient fittings. These schemes mean that people moving into these brand-new homes will more than likely use less far water than they did in their old home.

Increasing water supplies

There are plans for £14billion of improved water supplies

For the longer-term, each water company has developed a 25-year plan to balance supply with demand, and to reduce the impact of future drought on customers.

As part of those plans, the water industry has completed a number of major schemes to improve water supplies and ease pressure on sensitive water sources. For example, Wessex Water has invested £230million to move water to where it is most needed and reduce abstraction from chalk streams.

But the pressure of climate change will continue to challenge society, so water companies have made a further 18 proposals for major cross-country projects that together would increase our water supplies by over 15%.

This includes major water transfers, which involve moving water across the country from an area of water surplus to areas where the shortfalls are the greatest, such as the southeast.

Water companies have also proposed other projects, including reservoirs. These projects are currently being scrutinised by the regulators, and if approved, would see an overall investment of £14 billion from the sector.

The risk of drought next year

During this year’s record-breaking summer, comparisons were often made with the drought of 1976, particularly by the media and commentators. People who lived through this time recall standpipes in the street, collecting water for drinking and washing by the bucket. This year such scenes were not repeated, thanks in part to more resilient supplies.

Heading into 2023, forecasts by the Environment Agency suggest that if this winter has 80% or less of the usual amount of winter rainfall, then large parts of the country will likely be at risk of drought continuing into next summer. This would risk the start of 2023 reflecting the position at the start of 1976.  But while we can’t rule out another summer like 1976, we are more resilient than we’ve ever been. Your water company is working to ensure those memories of standpipes in the street remain where they belong, in the past.

How to save water

There are things we can all do at home to save water

Our water companies have a huge role to play, but there are things we can all do at home to save water in our daily routine and minimise the likelihood of restrictions next summer.

Some water companies are carrying out home visits to hand out free water-saving devices, deliver advice on how their customers can save water at home, and fix leaks in the home. For example leaks in loos can waste as much as 400 litres a day (the equivalent to having two extra people living in your home). Contact your water company to find out if they can visit you, and in the meantime have a look at our easy tips.

* Groundwater is water that is collected in underground reservoirs (known as aquifers) after filtering through the earth, which relies on winter rain. Around one third of the public water supply for England and Wales comes from groundwater, but this is in concentrated areas. In southern England, for example, around 80% of supplies come from groundwater.