Water Leaks Are Down to Record Lows, but Companies Aren’t Getting Complacent

In a recent report the UK’s water companies revealed that leakages from pipes had reached a new record low since the industry started monitoring the figure in the mid-1990s.


The report also showed that water quality in the UK remains at a very high standard as well, and revealed improvements in supply figures – which included a decrease in supply interruptions and water consumption.


An improving industry


Water companies have successfully reduced water leakage, as revealed in Discover Water’s general update on the current state of the water industry.


The reports show that leakage levels from pipes went down to 7%, the lowest figure recorded since the sector began keeping track of leakage data in the mid 90s.


Water quality has been maintained to a very high standard – scoring 99.96% in quality tests – and supply interruptions are now down to an average of only 12 minutes (according to the value recorded in the 2019-2020 period) compared to the 13-minute average seen in 2018-2019.


Water consumption in England and Wales has also decreased slightly, averaging 142 litres daily per person from  the previously recorded 143 litres per person.

However, sewer flooding saw a 14% increase industry-wide, despite several companies reporting a reduction. Parts of the UK have been affected by extreme weather – like storms Dennis and Ciara in the last year – and this did have an impact seen at least partially in an increase im sewer flooding.


A total of 216 million litres of leaked water per day – enough to fill 86 Olympic-size swimming pools – has been saved through actions taken by the UK’s water companies.   This has brought the total amount of water lost to leakage down by 7%, to 2,954 million litres per day.



Leveraging technology


The move to reduce water leakages comes with some technological challenge for companies. In the UK, water firms own 346,455 kilometres of water pipes – enough to circle the equator 8.5 times.


Reaching every leak has become something of a challenge for companies, prompting them to turn to innovation and new technologies.


For instance, Affinity managed to reduce leakage by 15% through state-of-the-art technologies and industry-leading data capture and analysis systems. It also applied innovative methods to discover and fix leaks. The firm is also making an effort to join forces with other water firms, to discuss and share industry best practices.


Thermal imaging drones are being used by Anglian Water to pinpoint and detect hard-to-find leaks. On the other hand, SSE Water collaborated with Vodafone to set up a way of identifying and fixing leaks via an intelligent distribution network.

Yorkshire Water is currently pioneering the most extensive smart water network in the UK, while Northumbrian Water utilises satellite technology to spot leaks in the Essex and Suffolk service areas.


Despite the overall improvement in the sector, companies are still working hard to achieve industry-wide targets, expecting a 16% reduction in leakages by 2025. By 2050, the industry believes it can cut the current leakage levels by half.


Water companies have pledged that by 2030, water lost to leakage will be only 2/3 of the current amount. This pledge, which was made at the 2019 Public Interest Commitments (or PIC), enables collaboration and innovation, which enhances companies’ ability to detect and repair leaks.


£290M pledge


UK water company United Utilities has also vowed to invest £290 million in water leakage reduction over the next five years.


The firm promised a 15% reduction in pipework leaks, while also slashing customer bills by up to 10%. United Utilities is also planning to recruit twenty new apprentices who will be assigned to tackle water leakage issues.


Hannah Wardle, United Utilities leakage manager, stated that fixing leaks is a priority for the company that’s why they have hired professionals and are investing in new technologies. She highlighted the firm’s plans to install 100,000 leak logging devices – the equivalent of one logging device per quarter mile – into the water pipe network.


Wardle also said the water company would be hiring 45 leakage detection engineers to ensure that leakage issues are adequately addressed. Other innovative ideas trialled by the firm include water sniffer dogs, and new AI software that will help detect leaks faster.


This pledge is part of the company’s £5.5 billion investment plan for the next five years.


From 2020 to 2025, United Utilities has set out to improve the quality of drinking water, and to address the issues of water supply resilience and pollution reduction.






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