More than just a meter

Guest blog by Southern Water on Using Water Wisely & Pricing it Fairly

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 Blueprint believes that nature should be at the heart of these plans.

In 2010, Southern Water began its journey to universal metering. First, we made the case on the grounds of resource – the need to cut demand to help secure supplies in our water–stressed region. Next came the economic case – it’s cheaper to meter everyone together as part of a well-planned, five-year programme, than to wait for individual customers to move house or put in ad hoc requests to have a meter installed. Then, we started on the customer case – it’s fairer to pay only for what you use, and meters can help you to save money.  Surely, that’s all there would be to it?

Well, it turned out that there was quite a lot more. From day one, we knew that our programme would be in the limelight. We were the first company to tackle this on such a large scale. Nearly half a million meters would need to be installed within five years, across the counties of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire where, incidentally, six other water companies also operate. It was a first for all of us – Southern Water, Ofwat, the Consumer Council for Water and our customers – and it was our customers who helped drive the programme.

As you would probably expect from a company made up largely of engineers, our first thoughts turned to how we were going to physically get the meters in the ground. But, by putting customers at the centre of our thinking, we began to look at the programme as a unique opportunity to engage with people about our service, rather than as a problem to be overcome.

We began by involving our customers in our decisions about the route we would take. We consulted with them on everything, from the way in which meters were fitted, to the timing and tone of the information we gave them, to the support we offered to those who might struggle to pay their bills. We gathered and analysed a range of data sources to help us target those most likely to find it difficult to make the change, and used this to develop a package of support for customers who needed it most.

The programme also empowered customers to take control of their water use. Our “Green Doctors” visited around 60,000 homes over the five-year period to carry out water and energy audits, and help customers make the jump from being a passive consumer to an active participant in the service they received. The results exceeded all our expectations. Our customers now use around 16% less water than at the start of the programme. This means that more precious water remains in the environment.

The reality is that it’s not just been about the meter, or using water wisely and pricing it fairly. It’s been about increasing resilience – our ability to strengthen our business so we can protect our services from future challenges, such as climate change and population growth. Metering has been the catalyst for starting a different conversation with our customers and has given us a platform for involving them in our long-term plans.

Our programme came before the big shift towards customer engagement that came with the PR14 price review. But for us, it was an important part of that journey and demonstrated just how much can be achieved when you involve customers in your plans and give them a chance to think about the future.

Penny Hodge
Head of Policy and Stakeholder Engagement, Southern Water

 

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

Unique Opportunity to Tackle Deepseated Failures in Water Management

Sometimes you read a statistic and have to read it again to ensure you read it right the first time.  Half of our freshwater wildlife species are in decline. That’s right: half of our freshwater wildlife species are in decline. Furthermore, 13% are at risk of extinction. Our rivers and lakes are in real trouble and we need to act urgently.

Hold on, I hear you say, I’m sure I read somewhere that our rivers are cleaner now than any time since the industrial revolution? It’s true that we have made progress in some areas: industrial and sewage pollution have been greatly reduced and many urban rivers are coming back to life.

However, these gains are set against an overall pattern of decline that was brought into sharp relief this week as I came to understand that the number of rivers achieving ‘Good Ecological Status’ in England has dropped from 17% to 14%. As long as we remain signed up to the Water Framework Directive (part of European Union legislation), we are under a legal obligation to get that figure to 75% by 2027. We haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of doing so unless we get our act together and start thinking really differently about the way that we manage water in this country.

This week, I chaired a Blueprint for Water meeting of Chief Executives of water companies, Cathryn Ross, the CEO of Ofwat, officials from the Environment Agency and Natural England and colleagues from the 18 Blueprint member organisations. The meeting launched our new campaign, Blueprint for PR19 (Price Review 2019). If you love healthy water environments, the Price Review process is a really important moment: it is when water companies set out their plans for the next 5 years (from 2019 onwards) and negotiate with Ofwat, the industry regulator, about how much they can charge customers, while also making a contribution to the objectives set by the Government’s environmental agencies.

Given that the companies will spend billions of pounds of our money in that period, which dwarfs the amount spent by government, it’s vital that we ensure those plans help to address the deep-seated failures in our water management system.

The meeting was held under Chatham House rules, so I won’t report what individuals said, but – and here’s the positive bit – there was a surprising and very welcome consensus in the room.  The highlights for me were as follows:

  • We need to take an innovative approach and scale up the things that have been shown to work at a local or regional level, such as universal metering, sustainable urban drainage systems and working with farmers to reduce pollution of rivers and water supplies.
  • The behaviour of people is a really important factor that we need to change. Millions of people put fat from frying pans, sanitary products and nappies down drains and toilets, which cause blockages in the system and sewage overflows. People also waste water and our per capita use puts us to shame compared to other European countries, which have more plentiful supplies.
  • The catchment based approach to planning action is vital for the successful management of water and we should work on a long term basis taking into account climate change, population growth and substantial house building programmes, which will put further stress on the system.

It was clear to me that everyone needs to wake up to the real crisis facing our water environment and the supplies on which our economy and lives depend. This isn’t something we can shrug about and get on with our lives any longer. Business as usual is not good enough.

I welcome the water companies’ commitment to addressing the real issues that were clear at the meeting. As citizens and bill payers, we need to press politicians and regulators to make the necessary decisions to support this and to allow them to invest in innovation and catchment management.

We are currently stumbling into another drought in much of the country, the one we had in 2012 that for a while endangered the success of the Olympics long having dropped off the political radar after several floods that cost the country billions. Meanwhile, half of our freshwater species, including many fish, continue to decline towards extinction, and we are all the poorer for that. The Angling Trust, backed by our membership and in partnership with colleagues in Blueprint organisations, will continue to make the case for fundamental reform of water management.

Please help by supporting us, sharing this blog, finding out how to use water and wastewater sensibly, and mentioning water to any politicians who knock on your door in the coming weeks.

Mark Lloyd
Chief Executive, Angling Trust and Fish Legal

Environmental Priorities for Future Water Company Investment

As the water companies in England and Wales sit down to draft their future investment plans for 2020-2025 (PR19) they are doing so at a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty. We must make sure that the environment does not become a casualty of confusion and that the plans will deliver for people and nature. Our Blueprint for PR19, launched today, sets out the priorities for the environment for PR19.

The Blueprint for Water coalition of 18 environment NGOs has been talking to the water companies, regulators and with the Government over the last year to share our ideas and inform our thinking on the environmental priorities for PR19. Our Blueprint for PR19 sets out these priorities.

Why are we interested?

The water companies in England and Wales are major players in the environment. They invest over £8bn per year on behalf of their customers – all of us. It is essential they play their part if we want to see healthy rivers, clean beaches and coastal waters, safe drinking water, less waste, reduced flooding and thriving wildlife. We certainly have work to do – the 2016 State of Nature report[i] found that 13% of our freshwater and wetland species are currently at risk of extinction and only 20% of water bodies in England and Wales are currently achieving ‘good ecological status'[ii].

What do we want to see?

We passionately believe that a healthy natural environment is at the heart of a resilient and successful water industry – an industry that can meet the needs of current and future customers and deal with the challenges we face, such as climate change and population growth.

Blueprint for PR19 sets out four headline outcomes we want to see achieved:

  1. Improving catchment management from source to sea;
  2. Stopping pollution of our waters;
  3. Using water wisely whilst pricing it fairly; and
  4. Keeping our rivers flowing and wetlands wet.

For each of these four outcomes, we have identified a number of specific priorities we want to see addressed in the plans. It also suggests how we might measure success.

Over the next month, we will be publishing a series of blogs from Blueprint coalition members and from the water sector on each of these outcomes…watch this space!

What can you do?

We are urging water companies to adopt our Blueprint for PR19 and you can do your part too.

The water companies will be engaging with stakeholders and customers over the next year to ensure their plans align with customer interests and priorities. So, please take the opportunity to have your say and stand up for nature. Check your water company’s website to see how you can engage and feel free to share or use the Blueprint for PR19.

Finally, if you want to find out how your company is performing, and how it compares with other companies, then take a look at this great new website www.discoverwater.co.uk.

You can read a summary of our priorities or download the full Blueprint for PR19 publication.

Nathan Richardson, Senior Policy Officer, RSPB

 

Sources

[i] State of Nature 2016

[ii] River Basin Management Plans 2015

Water resilient cities and schools

Our urban environments face unprecedented challenges from climate change and increasing population. Our environment is becoming fragmented and our children are not enjoying the access to the natural environment they need. Making our cities greener and bluer can help our cities face these challenges and make their local places more resilient. One way we can do this is through sustainable drainage systems (SuDS).

Sustainable drainage systems can, if designed appropriately, benefit us in a wide variety of ways. For example, they reduce the risk of surface water flooding by slowing and reducing the flow of water, which runs off hard impermeable surfaces before it reaches the sewer. They can also improve the quality of that run off, removing polluting particles in the water as well as from the air, improving air quality. They can store carbon, provide habitat for wildlife and increase people’s health and well-being.

So why aren’t they everywhere?

Well, these benefits aren’t really seen as pounds and pence and they don’t accrue to any one person, business or even sector. They are societal benefits that diffuse across communities and as such there are limited drivers to install or retrofit SuDS into our urban spaces. There is also no current Government policy or driver around fitting SuDS into existing developments despite the many advantages.

We want to change this. There are real benefits to retrofitting SuDS. Today WWT and Business in the Community (BITC) launch a report that highlights these benefits and suggests one possible way forward.

WWT have been working with BITC and others, including Arup and MWH to produce this publication. Using the CIRIA Benefits of SuDS Tool (BeST) we indicate what the scale of a roll out of SuDS across Greater Manchester could look like.

We report that a roll out of SuDS across Greater Manchester should be cost beneficial and of good value. Societal and environmental benefits under our test case range from £4 million to around £50 million depending on the scale of the roll out. The greatest benefits accrue around mental well-being and education. However, important benefits, including flood risk reduction and water quality improvements, could not be quantified at this high level as they are so site dependent.

Together with BITC, we propose a pilot roll out of SuDS retrofit across Greater Manchester. A pilot would provide much-needed demonstration sites for schools, NHS sites and businesses in the North West. Societal and environmental benefits will accrue to communities and businesses across the roll out area. A pilot roll out would demonstrate the opportunities for flood risk mitigation in the urban environment and could aim to optimise other societal and environmental benefits. This should be led as a joint venture between government, the private and third sector, working through the Manchester Urban Pioneer. Alongside practical demonstration sites, the pilot should consider prospective sustainable funding options for such natural capital investment.

The Government promised to leave the environment in a better state than it found it. This doesn’t just mean the rural environment. Let’s make our urban spaces rich in bird song, buzzing bees, flowers, ponds and trees which everyone can enjoy. Let’s start making the connection and build SuDS for schools, for flood reduction, for healthier rivers, for communities, for cities, for the future.

Read WWT’s new report on SuDS.

Hannah Freeman, Senior Government Affairs Officer
Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Sustainable Shores – Are we doing enough to address habitat loss at our coast?

Across the UK, we have lost significant amounts of coastal habitat to development and coastal squeeze. So, are we doing enough to address this loss? A simple question you might think, but one that is vexing the RSPB and other environmental NGOs.

The UK National Ecosystem Assessment[i] estimated that the overall extent of coastal habitat in the UK has reduced by 16% since 1945. The figures are worse in England where we have lost 20% or around 13,000ha, excluding mudflat[ii].

The same report projects further coastal margin habitats loss, just due to coastal squeeze, at around 8% by 2060. Much of this habitat will be lost from our most important wildlife sites. The Environment Agency estimates that 1,200 hectares of internationally protected (i.e. SAC/SPA) intertidal habitat in England will be lost due to coastal squeeze by 2025, whilst in Wales the figure is 260 hectares[iii].

So what are we losing? As well as their biodiversity value our coastal habitats provide us with flood risk benefits, recreational assets, carbon sinks and crucial fish spawning areas.

Whilst the threat is frightening, we do have the solutions in our gift to address it if we chose to implement them. We have seen more than 70 managed realignment and regulated tidal exchange projects in the UK over the last 25 years[iv]. Projects such as Medmerry and Wallasea have redefined the art of the possible. In all around 2,500ha of coastal habitat has been created in the UK, including around 1,600ha of intertidal habitat. However, around half of this intertidal habitat was compensating for projects and plans that were causing habitat loss, leaving around 800ha of new intertidal habitat in 25 years. This compares to the 13,000ha reported lost in England alone since 1945. We certainly have the skills but do we have the will?

If we look at it another way, just implementing our current Shoreline Management Plans in England means realigning 10% of the coast by 2030 (15% by 2060) and would create around 6200ha of coastal habitat. This would more than offset the habitat losses that are predicted in the same time period. It would also save us between £180m and £300m in the long term when compared to maintaining the current hard defences. However, since 1990 we have only realigned around 1.5% of the coast[ii].. At this rate it is going to take us nearly 175 years to have achieved what we planned to do by 2030.

So, unfortunately I suspect the answer to my opening question is: NO, we aren’t doing enough. We aren’t keeping pace with the rate of habitat loss and we aren’t adapting our coastline fast enough to meet the challenges of the future.

What are we going to do about it?  Well, this will be one of the questions we will be looking to answer in a new project I am leading at the RSPB called Sustainable Shores, which will report in the Autumn. If you want to find out more get in touch at nathan.richardson@rspb.org.uk

The managed realignment project at Medmerry is the biggest on the open-coast in Europe (Image: Environment Agency)

Dr Nathan Richardson
Senior Policy Officer, RSPB

[i] UK National Ecosystem Assessment (2011)

[ii] Managing the Land in a Changing Climate. Adaptation Sub-Committee Progress Report 2013.

[iii] UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017: Evidence Report (2016)

[iv] ABPmer (2017)  UK Marine Habitat Creation Schemes. ABPmer White Paper No.R.2781.

Taking Action to Save Water

Do we need water saving week?

Water is often overlooked – we take it for granted. Consistently high quality drinking water supply, combined with tiny water bills compared to the cost of energy and the apparent abundance of water falling from the sky, mean that conserving water is not high on the agenda of many people in the UK. Despite this, around 70% of people do take some action to save water (Waterwise, 2016).

Water saving week 2017 commences on the 20th March. It is growing in popularity since it was initiated three years ago by Waterwise, one of Blueprint’s members.

 

Whilst we at Waterwise are dedicated full time to saving water and promoting water efficiency, water saving week is an opportunity for people from all walks of life to take on the challenge of saving water and become more aware of the need to save water.

Do we really need to save water in the UK?

Yes!

The UK has less available water per person than most other European countries. Increasingly erratic weather patterns, population increases and lifestyle changes have generated huge pressure on water supplies. As a result, it is more important than ever that we take care with how we use water. Taking positive action now can help to ensure that there is enough water to go round, for us, for businesses and for the environment. To compound this, because people perceive the UK as a wet area, there is not a water saving culture!

Water must also be conserved as part of wider efforts to protect the environment. Heating water in your home can account for up to 25% of your energy bill. Additionally, substantial amounts of energy is required for treating water and wastewater.

If saving water is important, why only do it for one week a year?

As much as we want to achieve our mission of people using water wisely, everywhere and everyday, we realise that at present, saving water may not be something people think about or recognise the need for, let alone have the motivation to do. Water saving week is a time to get the whole country talking about water efficiency.

Check out the website for more information, and to download packs with lots of useful resources for each day of the week.

Hazel Lewis
Specialist Project Developer, Waterwise

The importance of our Natural Infrastructure

Prioritising the identification, protection and restoration of Natural Infrastructure provides a significant opportunity to realise the Government’s ambition of us being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than which we found it.

In every parliament, the National Infrastructure Commission sets out their views about our long-term infrastructure needs in a National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA). Looking over a 30-year time horizon, they consider the demand and supply of infrastructure services and assets, such as roads or fibre optic cables, and make recommendations to government on how these needs are best met.

They consider major sectors including transport, energy, water & wastewater, and flood risk management – areas where projects could impact significantly upon the environment. What they don’t tend to consider is whether these sectors could in fact benefit from the services that our countryside and green spaces provide.

Continue reading “The importance of our Natural Infrastructure”

Bringing farmland ponds to the fore in agri-environment schemes

Successive agri-environment schemes have tended to place a relatively low emphasis on farmland ponds, but have we been ignoring one of the most important farmland habitats? In recent years, the UCL Pond Restoration Research Group has been studying the decline of ponds and in turn, how they can be best managed to benefit wildlife in UK farmland.

Before the Second World War parts of the UK were pond heaven! Cheshire, Lancashire, Norfolk, Suffolk and many other areas were pock-marked with ponds, often with 4-5 present in just one field. Ponds were used for watering livestock, cooling farm machinery and even as a supply of organic matter to the fields. Moreover, they were an important part of local culture, much loved by local people.

Continue reading “Bringing farmland ponds to the fore in agri-environment schemes”

SuDS and Sovereignty: Parliament pushes back on impermeable paving!

Thanks to Brexit, the question of Parliamentary sovereignty is much in mind: when can the Executive act without the consent of Parliament? The Supreme Court’s judgement that a Parliamentary vote is needed to trigger Article 50 is a check on executive power.

Behind the furore of Brexit, though, another balancing act has been taking place between Whitehall and Westminster that is having a real effect on people’s lives.

Continue reading “SuDS and Sovereignty: Parliament pushes back on impermeable paving!”