What has water efficiency ever done for us – and what could it do…?

Between now and September 2018, water companies in England and Wales will be drawing up plans for their investments between 2020 to 2025. Companies are required to produce these plans for the Periodic Review 2019 (PR19), and we believe nature should be at the heart of these plans.

These PR19 plans are crucial to deliver for both customers and the environment. Blueprint has a number of priorities for these plans, one of which is water efficiency.

Why should we waste less water?

It’s officially been a dry winter in parts of England, and some water companies are looking particularly closely at their recharge possibilities for the summer. The impacts of drought on the economy, people and the environment are severe – and last year’s Water UK report set out that future droughts will be more severe, and will impact all parts of the country.

Wasting less water clearly has a huge role to play in tackling this. The less water we waste, the more there is to go round – and there are more of us using it all the time, and using it in different ways, too. Water companies are doing great work with their customers on water efficiency – including offering them visits to make their toilets and showers more water-efficient, as well as advice on how to waste less, and in some cases linking this to frequent smart meter readings to their phones. But, these programmes are still a drop in the ocean in terms of overall water company investment in England and Wales.

Does water efficiency actually help customers and the environment?

Customers are expecting a better service from their water companies now. Lots of us live our lives through apps these days, and we also expect a tailored service, building on what we ask for and what the companies we use regularly know about us. However, Ofwat has said that too many water customers are receiving an analogue service in a digital age.

Customers should be at the heart of the water sector, and engaging with them on water efficiency is a great way for water companies to make this happen. Unlike with energy, when we’re using water, we can see and feel (and drink) it – and it’s this feeling we have around water, and its importance to our own families and communities, that companies should be tapping into.

We also know from companies’ own research that customers care about the environment in its own right – and not just for the water and wastewater services it provides them. So water companies across England should be working with all their customers on water efficiency, now and in the future, and not just during drought. It doesn’t just help with resilience, it also helps with other things customer care about – the environment, and better customer service.

What do we want? More water efficiency! When do we want it? Now!

The Blueprint for Water coalition is challenging water companies to increase their ambition on water efficiency – building on their great work to date. We’re asking them to:

  • significantly scale up their demand management programmes – this means water efficiency, leakage and metering
  • increase the overall metering of households, as well as the proportion of smart meters
  • ensure a ‘water neutral PR19’ – with no overall increase in the amount of water abstracted from rivers and groundwater, despite population growth and climate change
  • set out ambitious plans to help customers and communities reduce use at ‘peak’ times and in catchments most at risk from abstraction
  • increase the availability, promotion and take-up of tariffs and retrofit programmes (sending trained staff in to make bathrooms and kitchens more water efficient) – different ways of paying for what we use, including to waste less water and protect customers struggling to pay.

Perfect opportunity for water efficiency to improve resilience and customer service

The step change set out by Blueprint would directly contribute to Ofwat’s four themes for the 2019 price review – resilience, customer service, innovation and affordability. And the UK Government has made it clear, through their draft Strategic Policy Statement for Ofwat, that they want to see more water efficiency and better customer service.

We know the industry is taking resilience seriously. Blueprint is asking them to significantly step up their ambition on water efficiency to help them to drive increased resilience – and an improved relationship with their customers. We’re also asking their customer challenge groups to report to Ofwat on how they’ve done this, and for company Boards to actively report against these and the rest of the Blueprint manifesto for PR19 in business plans. As Cathryn Ross, Ofwat Chief Executive has said – water efficiency is a key strategic issue, not a dry supply-demand one, and should be on every water company Board agenda.

Nicci Russell
Managing Director, Waterwise