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September 2021 issue

List of contents

This website includes excerpts from the latest edition of THE WATER REPORT

Full coverage is available only in the print and digital editions of the magazine. SUBSCRIBE HERE

PUBLISHED BY

KEW PLACE

Drop-to-drop dot-to-dot

Policy makers and practitioners alike seem to agree on the need to connect up strategic water planning activities – but how?

Water systems are highly interconnected. They always have been, but have rarely been managed as such. Now, growing pressures on both natural and financial resources have coalesced to prompt everyone involved – from policy makers to practitioners – to get behind the twin ideas of bringing the pieces together and planning for the long term. 

Organisational development director at Water Resources South East (WRSE), Trevor Bishop,  summarises the movement to what he calls “connect the dots”. Bishop says: “Water is part of a highly connected system, particularly in the South East. These connections between the different ways we interact with water – water quality, water resources, flood risk and many others – are becoming increasingly critical because we are effectively entering a new phase in terms of our relationship with water as a natural resource and a natural hazard.

“In this phase we are already seeing an imbalance between environmental capacity and our needs in different parts of the water

cycle. This imbalance is set to increase with growth and be further exacerbated by climate change which is set to add layers of uncertainty

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and greater extremes. Managing these connections well will enable us all to provide water services and outcomes with greater resilience and at better value for people and the environment. So it’s time for a change and joining the dots across strategic planning is just part of how we as a sector need to work smarter.” 

We are effectively entering a new phase in terms of our relationship with water
as a natural resource and a natural hazard.

High not dry

South East Water is building a strategy to deploy Temporary Use Bans in response to high demand events rather than water resource shortages.

Water company staff who have been on the sharp end of tabloid coverage of hosepipe bans, even as reservoir levels visibly dwindle, might marvel at South East Water for laying the groundwork to use Temporary Use Bans to manage spikes in demand rather than shortfalls in supply. But this year the company has been doing just that, as part of an innovative approach developed in response to pandemic-related demand shocks and in preparation for future demand stretches.

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Few would disagree with the summary of South East Water’s head of water resources, Lee Dance, that 2020 was “a really weird year” – though he is talking specifically about water demand patterns. The company commissioned Artesia to map water use in its area through Covid restriction periods; this revealed household usage increased 15.9% in 2020/21, with 12.8% attributable to the pandemic and 3.1% to the hot dry weather. Covid was having a really big impact,” Dance recalls, and even with non household usage down 26.6%, the

company struggled to keep pace with demand in some specific areaswhere pinch points emerged. Dance reports that in fact, patterns were very Water Resource Zone specific, with some areas little different to normal and others (especially commuter areas) wildly changed as people worked from home, did different things at different times, and took staycations instead of holidays away. “

The system was creaking,” Dance says.. 

Defra has added a new strategic priority for Ofwat: to protect and enhance the environment.

The department is consulting until 27 September on a new Strategic Policy Statement (SPS) for Ofwat, which sets out the government’s strategic priorities for economic regulation of the water sector in England.

Greening priorities

Defra has added environmental enhancement to its strategic priorities for Ofwat.

The environmental priority was added to the the three existing (2017) priorities – for resilience, customer protection and markets. Citing “increasing pressure on our water environment” as well as shifting customer expectations, the SPS said: “Ofwat should drive water companies to be more ambitious in their environmental planning and delivery to contribute towards the priorities set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan (25YEP). Ofwat should drive water companies to improve their day to day environmental performance to enhance quality of the water environment.” 

Under “a resilient water sector” the SPS said: “Ofwat should challenge the water sector to plan, invest and operate its water and wastewater services to secure the needs of current and future customers, in a way which delivers value to customers, the environment and wider society over the long term.” 

Time to separate

The marriage of rainwater and sewage in combined sewer systems has become unhappy. Separating flows is not the easiest path but will be better for the children than carbon-intensive, quick-fix spill quotas.

Storm overflows have been in operation and performing a useful function for decades (see box). But better data about how often and for how long they operate (on the back of a multi-million pound Event Duration Monitoring programme – all overflows are due to be monitored by December 2023); a fashion for wild swimming; and very vocal critics in the form of individuals, river user groups and environmental NGOs with significant social media reach have combined to ensure the unpalatable subject of raw sewage in rivers has touched a public nerve. 

Guardian stories and Panorama have taken storm overflows mainstream. Politicians have piled in. There has been a recent Environmental Audit Committee inquiry; the creation of a Storm Overflows Taskforce; and proposed legislation (first a Private Member’s Bill and now as part of the Environment Bill). Even Ofwat has taken a recent interest in the topic that traditionally would sit more neatly under the environmental regulator’s remit – no doubt in part with an eye to the investment requirement

fallout for PR24. 

WINEP streak

A multi-stakeholder taskforce has set out its ideas on getting WINEP fit for more and more consistent success in future. 

Changes earmarked for the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP) amount to a substantial shift in the way water companies will invest and deliver for the environment at PR24 and beyond.

In light of growing pressures on the environment, the ambition of the 25 Year Environment Plan, and changing expectations, the Environment Agency has consulted on a WINEP redesign – the programme of work water companies in England are required to do to meet their obligations from environmental legislation and UK government policy. Creatively, this was the product of co-working from a multi-stakeholder taskforce led by the EA and Ofwat and involving representatives from water companies, Natural England, the Drinking Water Inspectorate, CCW, and eNGOs. 

Long term outcomes

The redesign puts forward seven key proposals for consideration. The first concerns moving to a programme that is outcome rather than output focused, which will enable companies to deliver more than their statutory duties and work in a more flexible way. The taskforce proposed introducing a new three-tiered outcomes approach for including schemes in WINEP programmes, for partial introduction at PR24 and subsequently full implementation:

• Tier 1 outcomes – highest level outcomes relating to 25YEP and statutory planning framework objectives – for example, linked to improving river water quality or biodiversity net gain. All parts of a water company programme should link to at least one tier 1 outcome. 

• Tier 2 goals – goals water companies will propose and the EA will evaluate and agree, to contribute to achieving tier 1 outcomes – for example, to reduce water company contributions to the phosphorus load in x catchment by x%.

• Tier 3 outputs – the site or asset specific actions that are required to deliver the tier 1 outcomes and tier 2 goals – for example, a licence change.

keep on top of the threats and opportunities in retail and upstream.

It's the eye on the competition.

Lift the

The fund of the fair

A new fund from MOSL will redirect performance charges to help the market race ahead rather than go round in circles. 

MOSL is hoping September will bring lots of innovation and creativity to the water retail market. This month (until 30 September), it is welcoming bids into the first ever round of a newly created Market Improvement Fund (MIF) to support projects that benefit the market and its customers”. £1m is up for grabs, with allocations of between £10,000 and £150,000 on the table for successful bidders.

The fund was a part of a proposal implemented at the beginning of 2020, to invest a proportion of performance standards charges in market improvement projects, rather than redistributing them to trading parties. Finance director Steve Formoy explains the idea was to get away from the “money go round” of redistribution and rather to use some of that money to try new things that can make a change for the better. 

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Formal and function

Co-chairs Simon Bennett and Richard Stanbrook explain the RWG’s success has necessitated a review of governance and a more formal approach to wholesaler/retailer collaboration.

The Retailer Wholesaler Group (RWG) is set to move into a more formal and sustainable governance as befits the increasingly broad and important role it is playing in the retail water market. The hope is it can do this without losing the relaxed approach that has helped make it a success. 

The RWG’s raison d’être has been to get wholesalers and retailers to work through issues that are causing difficulties for customers and that require input from both sides. Through the hard work and dedication of those chairing and participating in its sub groups, the RWG has shown how to improve pockets of the market through good practice guides, and encouraged a more consistent approach to wholesaler/retailer interactions. 

Its reach has spread from tactical issues such as leak allowance policy to more strategic work, like creating a water efficiency action plan and now a project to evaluate the prospects for tariff standardisation.

Founder and wholesaler chair, Simon Bennett says many of the RWG’s achievements are largely down to getting "the right people” involved. Initially this involved himself and Water Plus’ Simon Brown, and more recently on the retailer side, Richard Stanbrook, now retailer chair, whose experience and standing in the industry helped “take the RWG to the next level,” says Bennett.

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