Eastern Region water companies planning for growth

We need to understand how much industry needs, and how much will it need in a hundred years; how much will agriculture need in a hundred years; what will the population be in a hundred years.

rutland07:07 Wednesday 6th April 2016
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: Water. We take it for granted. You turn on the tap. You go for a shower. You flush the loo. You water the garden. It’s always there. But we live in the driest part of the country, and we’re due to build many thousands more homes over the next couple of decades, full of people who will also want water. How to keep the taps running in the future was the question at an event in Peterborough organised by the watchdog, The Consumer Council for Water. Our reporter Katy Prickett went along.
RICHARD POWELL: We are the driest part of the country. Most of the Fens, as you know, is under sea level, so we could be flooded if there is an event. This part of the world has to look at the way it uses water, stores water, manages water, and this is incredibly important. We’re the fastest growing region outside London, so there are lots of houses, and businesses and jobs growth. They all need water. So water is an incredibly important part of the East of England, and how the companies manage that resource for the next fifty years is quite an important part of their role.
KATY PRICKETT: Richard Powell, a local customer advocate for the Consumer Council for Water, talking about water use in Cambridgeshire. The watchdog represents water company customers and was holding its first ever meeting in the Eastern Region at the Bull in Peterborough. It focused on efforts needed to protect water supplies for future generations. After all, Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire are scheduled to have a further 33,000 new homes by 2030, while just last week we heard Wisbech might be developed as a Garden Town with an extra 10,000 new homes, that will all want access to clean water. Bernard Crump is the watchdog’s Regional Chair for our area, and says customers are telling him they know water is a precious resource.
BERNARD CRUMP: With climate change, with growth in housing, and with the fact that this area is quite arid, expect to see water companies planning to make sure that the taps will always turn on, whatever comes along. We can act as the kind of bridge between that conversation we have with customers through our research and our contacts with them, and the companies, to make sure that that ambition to get the balance right is delivered.
KATY PRICKETT: During the lunch break he told me it’s all about supply and demand.
BERNARD CRUMP: In terms of supply, we need to make sure that we have the arrangements to store and to clean water in sufficient amounts to deal not just with the everyday, but within periods when we have a need to increase our use of water, because of weather, or because of drought or whatever that might be. And at the same time we need to look at ways that we can reduce demand for water, and that might be in our homes, it might be in areas of industry, agriculture being an important one we’ve been talking about, logical developments that can help crops to be able to give their yields with lower water dependency.
KATY PRICKETT: Water companies including Anglian Water and the Cambridge Water Company gave presentations at the meeting. Bernard Crump says he’s impressed by the way they’re collaborating with others to try to meet the rising demand for water in our area.
BERNARD CRUMP: That planning is standing us in good stead, so that when times get really tough with water towards the end of the 2020s, the planning has already been done to make sure that the solutions are in place. And you can rest assured we’ll be watching this area like a hawk over the next decade, to make sure that these plans get turned into reality.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Katy Prickett there, reporting from the Bull Hotel in Peterborough. Well listening to that is Emma Staples from Anglian Water. Morning Emma.
EMMA STAPLES: Morning Dotty.
DOTTY MCLEOD: I wonder if first of all you can just clear up a little bit of confusion for me. Because when I hear that gentleman saying Cambridgeshire is one of the driest parts of the country, but at the same time the Fens are nearly always flooded, what makes sense of that contradiction?
EMMA STAPLES: I think it’s the way that you collect water that falls from the sky. People think that it falls from the sky, it should be readily available, but of course it doesn’t always fall in our reservoirs, and we have to get it to the point so we can then treat it so that it’s good for consumption, and then pump it out to the massive network that we have. But yes, we are one of the driest regions. By the time the rain clouds have got over Wales, over the Midlands, they get to us and there’s not always that much left. So there’s plenty of Met Office maps that show you that we are very very very low rainfall, compared to the other areas. But yes, the whole drainage challenges is separate, but is something that we have a massive team working on, based in Cambridge at Milton Road, and so Water Resources is absolutely integral to everything we do. It’s why we have Love Every Drop as our mantra that we really live by as a business.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So how real is the threat that water supplies are going to be under pressure?
EMMA STAPLES: Well they will be under pressure, but customers can be reassured that as Richard and Bernard both said in that report, we are doing long range planning to make sure that we have enough, not just for customers, but for businesses, for agriculture to thrive going forward. And this isn’t just about our generation. It’s about our children’s, it’s about our children’s children. So we’re starting a really really exciting project at the moment, which is looking not just at the next ten, fifty years, but a hundred years. So really what do we need to build now to make sure that in the next century we’ve got enough water for future generations.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So what do you need to build now? Is this more reservoirs?
EMMA STAPLES: Well it might be Dotty, and that’s the really exciting bit. We’re going to be talking about this a lot more over the next couple of years. We’re bringing together all of the people at the moment, so clearly it’s not just us that can make those decisions. We need to understand how much industry needs, and how much will it need in a hundred years; how much will agriculture need in a hundred years; what will the population be in a hundred years; so we need to get all of those people together. We are, Anglian Water is bringing all of the major water users, Cambridge Water are part of it, Affinity Water and Essex and Suffolk, which are other water users in this Eastern Region. We’re looking at the major agriculture and food producers, big businesses, charities that understand what the environment needs are going to be. And we’re really saying what is the best solution. And we need to go through all of that working. It’s really the grit in the oyster at the moment. We’re setting all of that up. But there’s going to be some really interesting outcomes from this project. Water Resources East Anglia is what it’s called, and we’ll be talking about it loads over the next couple of years. So it may be, yes, new reservoirs.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And do you feel Emma that there’s a lot of water waste at the moment? Are for example farmers or other industries using more water than they need?
EMMA STAPLES: Well I think it’s very difficult to speak about outside of the region. I think actually farmers are very environmentally conscious, and certainly in this region, if we talk about leakage and customers on meters for example, we’ve got the lowest leakage level of all the water companies. And we’ve gone way way way below what Ofwat set us as a target, because we know it’s so important to customers. They don’t want to see leaks around. And in terms of putting meters in the ground for customers, we’ve got 80% of customers on meters already. Again that’s the leading level in the UK. So we’re way ahead of the game, but we absolutely need to keep looking forward. And it might not be reservoirs, it might be reservoirs, but then where do we put them? Where is the best place to do that that’s going to serve all of the needs for industry and for the public? And also what about desalination? It’s quite carbon-intensive, but maybe there’ll be new innovations coming down the line. Should we consider that? And there’s going to be some really interesting discussions coming out of this project.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. Emma, thank you very much. Emma Staples there from Anglian Water