What are the priorities for UK water infrastructure?

Water utilities Ellis Fox blog

The water sector is not alone in the major challenges it’s facing. They’re common to most infrastructure sectors: Aging and inadequate infrastructure, disruptions caused by climate crisis events, and new sustainability targets mean that infrastructure is under pressure to deliver amid high expectations.

It is estimated that an additional 4000 Ml of daily water is required to assure a long term supply of potable water in the UK. This according to a study conducted by the National Infrastructure Commission. Keeping up with demands from growing urban populations is not the only challenge in being able to meet the supply requirement. Climate scientists predict an increased risk of drought and floods in the next two decades. This will reduce water availability and highlights the critical need to build resilience into infrastructure to avoid further damage and disruptions.

A cost too high to ignore

With limited funding available, there is much debate as to what the priorities should be. Fixing leaks and damaged water infrastructure is certainly high on the list, but a 2022 report reflected that only three quarter of water companies are successfully achieving targets in this regard.  Leakages account for almost 20% of water loss, highlighting the importance of plugging the leaks if water resources are to be safeguarded.

Reducing demand through metered supply has been another suggestion. It’s common practice in other countries, but not in the UK and would require major infrastructure investments to achieve.

The bigger and more critical investments though will be in creating climate resilience. It is estimated that GBP21 billion is required to achieve this. While investors may baulk at this amount, the reality is that the cost of doing nothing is much higher. If resilience is not built into water infrastructure it is estimated that the emergency cost to repair damage and maintain water supply could be as high at GBP40 billion.

Collaboration is key

What’s encouraging is that water companies are for the first time showing a willingness to collaborate on a regional level. Collectively working towards plans to preserve water supply and build resilience into water infrastructure. Digital transformation is an important part of this, leveraging smart technologies for metering and advanced scanning technologies to detect leaks and compromised infrastructure.

The task ahead to ensure water security is not going to be easy to achieve, but greater industry collaboration and willingness to adopt new policies and technologies, might just make it possible.