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Water Metering: Money down the drain?
Figures show Southern Water wastes nearly 95 million litres of water every single day.
So if the company sorted out its leakage problems would metering be required? SARAH JONES speaks to water resources manager Meyrick Gough from Southern Water.
In October, the Daily Echo reported that Southern Water wastes enough water through the company’s pipes every day to fill 38 Olympicsized swimming pools, and Ofwat, the industry regulator, said you could face penalties if your performance didn’t improve. Would you concede that Southern Water has a major leakage problem?
No. When the company was privatised back in 1989, the leakage level then was 230 million litres of water per day that was being lost from the network. The company knew then that that was one big area that it had to tackle. Since that time, leakage levels have been driven right down. Last year we were down to losing 95 million litres per day, so we have saved a significant amount of water leaking from the network over a period of time.
But isn’t the fact that you’re losing 95 million litres a day still a major problem?
We have one of the lowest leakage levels per property in England and Wales out of all the water and sewage companies. It is an important issue for us and we will always continue to drive leakage down as low as we can get it. We have got in place a plan of action to reduce leakage even further over the next five years, to get it down to 77 million litres of water per day by replacing vulnerable parts of the network. That might sound like a big number but that’s over 13,000km of water mains. People have said to me: “Shouldn’t you have a network that doesn’t leak?” I say to them, I would love to have a network that doesn’t leak but to do that I would have to replace not only the 13,000km of mains that we have, but also all the pipes to our customers’ houses as well. To replace the network alone would cost over £2 billion but our whole capital investment programme over this five-year period is only £1.6m, and that’s dealing with all the assets we have. I would dearly love to get leakage down lower but it’s always a trade-off between the conflicting pressures and not pushing customer bills up significantly more than we have to.
Why is water leaking out in such huge quantities?
It is purely the age of the network. We have pipes in the ground that are over 100 years old. The material that was used to create them wasn’t like the modern-day plastics and they corrode. There are things we can do to try and alleviate the problem but the pipes aren’t as good as they were when they were put in the ground 100 years ago. Problems can also be created if pipes are running through clay soil, which expands when it’s wet and can cause pipes to burst or some joints to pop. Cold weather can also cause an increase in the bursts. Even with a brand-new network, I know that even within 25 or 30 years time there would be break-out leaks.
Some of our readers may claim that if it wasn’t for your leakage problems we would not have a water shortage and metering would be unnecessary. What would you say to them?
I would say to them that regardless of any leakages, metering acts as a fairer way to pay for a lot of customers because they only pay for what they use and it puts them in control of their bills.
What would you say to anyone who might suggest that metering is merely a way of generating more revenue for Southern Water so they can tackle their leakage problem that is their fault in the first place?
No. In terms of the way the industry is regulated, metering is effectively almost costneutral.
The more we drive down demand and leakage, the less water we have to extract from the environment, the less water we have to treat, the less water we have to pump round the system.
An important part of your campaign focuses on domestic water users being less wasteful of water. How would you respond to people who might say that’s double standards considering you’re wasting so much water yourselves?
We have saved 135 million litres leaking through our system per day since privatisation.
That’s a significant amount of water and that has meant that we’ve been able to tackle growth and deal with a lot of things without having to put customer bills up significantly just to deal with new water resources. We are doing our bit and we will continue to do our bit to drive leakage down and we’re looking to save just as much water on the leakage side as we anticipate we will save through metering. Once the meters are in we will continue to strive to drive leakage down as far as we possibly can, not just on our pipes but on customer supply lines as well. New technology will come on line in the next ten years that will help us do this.
While 80 per cent of the water being lost through leakage is down to Southern Water, the remaining 20 per cent is caused by householders.
What are you doing to help customers who know water is leaking from their pipes?
Our policy is to offer our customers three free repairs. We feel that’s a way to help us to reduce leakage and I think it’s fair for customers too. When the meters go in, there’s a whole programme to provide assistance to customers to help them to understand how they can save water, but also to make them aware of some of the dripping tap issues they might have.
When meters come in they will be installed with alarms that will indicate leaks on householder’s pipes. How important will this be in solving the overall problem?
Hugely important. We anticipate just by doing this we will save five million litres of water per day. When our crews go round they will be able to pick those alarms up and effectively knock on customers’ doors and inform them that we think they have a leak even before they are aware of it.
Figures show Southern Water wastes nearly 95 million litres of water every single day. So if the company sorted out its leakage problems would metering be required? SARAH JONES speaks to water resources manager Meyrick Gough from Southern Water River Itchen a t r isk i f no th in g i s do ne...
In a severe drought Southern Water would not be able to take water from the River Itchen “
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