Excerpts from THE  WATER REPORT 

May 2021 issue 71

FULL STORIES AVAILABLE ONLY IN THE MAGAZINE IN PRINT AND PDF

CONTENTS full contents of the magazine  

INTERVIEW Sarah Bentley on Thames’ turnaround.

 

THE WATER REPORT EXPERT FORUM Defra’s SPS for Ofwat.

 

REPORT Storm overflow data and developments.

 

INTERVIEW The Scottish Government’s water lead Bob Irvine.

 

NEWS REVIEW Wessex buys Albion Water.

 

REPORT Bristol Water’s Regulating for consensus and trust.

 

NEWS REVIEW PCC incentives on hold until PR24.

 

PROMOTION: Murphy

 

NEWS REVIEW British Water launches a Supply Chain Taskforce.

 

REPORT Innovation in Water winners.

 

INTERVIEW RAPID’s Paul Hickey.

 

INTERVIEW Toby Willison to accelerate the green agenda at Southern.

 

FEATURE Mapping catchment eco-data.

 

REPORT The water poverty gap.

 

Bentley

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Bentley won’t be drawn on the detail of what has caused Thames to underperform – be it historic underinvestment, the shortcomings of previous management, underperforming commercial arrangements or anything else. She says: “I haven’t spent too much time looking back and asking who did what, when? I’m not sure that’s helpful. Learning from what the problems are, making sure we’ve got systems so we don’t do that again – absolutely. But pointing our finger…

There are a lot of different areas I think that have caused the problems. But the focus for me is to be really transparent about what those problems are, not pretend they don’t exist, call it as it is. It’s not like I’m calling anything out that hasn’t been said before…We’ve got to leak less, cause customers to complain less, pollute less, and start really investing in our assets.” 

RAPID

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“Companies are really leaning in on the regional planning agenda, there’s a lot to be congratulated there.” There are now five active regional resource planning groups, coordinating efforts in their respective regions, as well as “an enormous amount of collaboration” to join up the dots through the National Framework.

Water companies have also made progress on the individual strategic schemes they are involved with – with special mention last year having to go to Southern Water and the other companies working on strategic schemes for Hampshire. These are being fast tracked through the RAPID process under an “accelerated” gated process which, Hickey explains, is “all wrapped up in an abstraction licensing issue, to protect the Test and Itchen chalk streams”. 

 

Forum

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REPORT B-MeX concept endorsed.

 

The institute of Water takes stock of the market at four.

 

NEWS REVIEW Retailers exempt from annual meter reads until September.

 

INDUSTRY COMMENT Water on the sustainability agenda.

 

NEWS REVIEW Ofwat considers protections for customer credit.

 

INDUSTRY COMMENT Circular economy thinking.

Perhaps the most explicit expression of this was the participant who commented: "Where to start? Support for customers remains a postcode lottery. The public view, and operating reality, is that wastewater assets are polluting rivers on a daily basis, and yet companies attempt to pass the blame onto their customers for flushing wet wipes. Per capita consumption is increasing…”

Others echoed these views, with remarks including “the affordability agenda is still disjointed;” “the need to ensure future water resources is growing yet progress has been limited;” and “resilience gains significantly lower than the market has the potential to deliver. 

Southern

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But why was Willison attracted to Southern? While its performance on some relevant clean water metrics including leakage and demand management are good, its wastewater performance is not. Legacy pollutions and misreporting on them landed the company with a record breaking £126m Ofwat penalty package in 2019, and its sentencing in the court case brought by the Environment Agency is pending. And last autumn, the EA issued Southern with a single star rating in its annual Environmental Performance Assessment. It became the first firm to be rated this poor since 2015. 

Willison explains that contrary to that picture, transformation at Southern Water is “manifestly happening”. He offers: “By the end of the AMP, we won’t be talking about Southern being a poor performer or a laggard in the industry.” He says it is “crystal clear” to him that the transformation measures McAulay has put in place “are absolutely the right interventions”.

 

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Take off

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Russell said he was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of the bids. There was, he explained, a “hold your breath moment” when the bids came in, a “nervousness around [getting] 1000 bids about leakage” or another single topic. “But we didn’t get that,” he reported, praising the sector for being “diligent” in aligning with the five strategic

themes Ofwat said it was particularly keen to see pursued through the competition. It was, he said, a tribute to the sector that the bids focused on transformative innovation with some real surprises.

 

An ammonia recovery project led by Northumbrian Water, for instance, he described as “genuinely groundbreaking and unexpected”. 

 
 

B-Mex

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There are an estimated 1.2m non household customers in the market. They vary enormously but the market treats them all the same. “It’s just illogical to treat a horse trough the same as Fawley oil refinery [the largest consuming site in the market using 35 million litres a day, approximately the same as the whole of Guildford],” argues McMath.

Meter reading rules are a case in point. MOSL data shows that of the 1.2m water customers, approximately 600,000 use less than 100 litres/day (this figure is based on around 280,000 in the 0-100 litres/day banding and 350,000 in the less than zero litres/day banding), way less than the average domestic consumer. But the same market rules on meter reading apply to these customers as to some large users (up to a certain volume at which point meters are required to be read monthly): for the purpose of settlement, retailers have to submit a minimum of two meter reads per year to CMOS, one of which has to be “an eyeball read” by the retailer rather than customer-provided. 

Fourth

Ofwat director Georgina Mills recapped data from last year’s State of the Market Report including the identification of three principal market frictions: poor data quality; wholesaler/retailer interactions; and inadequate wholesaler performance.

 

MOSL chief executive Sarah McMath gave a presentation laced with customer experience stories to illustrate her key point that one size does not fit all in the market. She emphasised the lack of common sense in requiring all meters to be read with the same frequency.

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challenged common assumptions on switching, pointing out, for example, that nine of the ten highest consuming customers in the market have not switched.

This would all have been quite bleak if it were not for the sense that came across equally strongly that there is a willingness to act to make things better. Clancy said CCW planned to focus on strengthening customer protections and ensuring those already there are better monitored and acted upon. 

Squeeze

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Sustainable innovation company Greener than Green uses a transportable wastewater treatment plant to recover materials and then processes them into a range of new sustainable products. “We can move this unit around to different facilities and grab the valuable compounds, while reclaiming water,” founder Dimitri Iossifidis says.

The company is also a member of the Ultimate project consortium, an EU-funded initiative creating economic value for different sectors through a concept called ‘Water-smart Industrial Symbiosis’. This approach reframes wastewater as not just a reusable resource, but also a carrier of energy and valuable components that can be extracted, treated, stored and reused.