Halve leaks, build infrastructure and meter everyone or face outages warns advisor

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) last week made a series of recommendations to government supporting a twin track approach to the delivery of an additional 4,000 million litres of water per day (Ml/day). It issued the stark message that should action not be taken, England’s homes and businesses could face having their water supplies cut off in times of severe drought.

In a report published on Thursday, the Commission called immediately for:

  • Ofwat to launch a competitive process by the end of 2019, complementing the price review, so that at least 1,300 Ml/day is provided through (i) a national water network and (ii) additional supply infrastructure by the 2030s;

  • the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to set an objective for the water industry to halve leakage by 2050, with Ofwat agreeing five year commitments for each company (as part of the regulatory cycle) and reporting on progress; and

  • DEFRA to enable companies to implement compulsory metering beyond water stressed areas by the 2030s, by amending regulations before the end of 2019 and requiring all companies to consider systematic roll out of smart meters as a first step in a concerted campaign to improve water efficiency.

The NIC pointed out the cost of responding to a severe drought in the UK would likely run into tens of billions of pounds. “The case for improving our long-term resilience to drought is therefore compelling.”

It published this assessment on water ahead of its wider infrastructure needs assessment, scheduled for summer, to allow stakeholders to factor the recommendations in to PR19 and the next set of Water Resource Management Plans. It said: “The current price review being undertaken by the industry regulator – through which companies are considering how they will provide a secure supply of water to homes and businesses in their area – presents an ideal opportunity for improving the long-term planning and coordination of water supply at both regional and national scale.”

Chairman of the NIC, Sir John Armitt (pictured), said: “If we are to avoid our taps running dry, in times of extreme drought, we need the government to act on our recommendations without delay.”