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Water, water, everywhere…

Leaky pipes, rising bills and poor flood management are making the UK’s water companies pretty unpopular right now, and with good cause. Indeed, just today, Northumbrian Water and Essex & Suffolk Water announced price hikes 1.3 per cent above inflation.

The water sector is at the heart of some of the big environmental and climate change issues facing us all – but are the utilities doing their bit?

One example in the news this week is the ongoing row between protesters and Thames Water over the planned new reservoir at Abingdon that will cover about 4.5 square miles of farmland and cost a mighty £800m to build.

Protesters have questioned various Thames Water assumptions about the projected need for water and the ability to even fill the reservoir – the arguments for and against neatly summed up in this Daily Telegraph article.

Surely the UK’s future water needs would be better addressed by a more serious attempt to tackle the shocking leakage records of many UK water companies along with a significant increase in investment in innovation and sustainability.

The energy-intensive operational activities of the water sector are responsible for one per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions – which shows the scale of the challenge that needs to be addressed.

The job of policing and enforcing all this falls to water regulator Ofwat which, like many UK industry regulators, doesn’t appear to have much by the way of teeth in being able to force the water industry down this path.

There’s plenty of tough talk and the right things are being said but, Greenbang’s opinion, not enough action.

A perfect example of that today is Ofwat has published a “comprehensive policy statement” on climate change and the water sector in England and Wales.

What does it tell us? Not much, actually, apart from saying how Oftwat’s policies on reducing leakage and water consumption, flood management and water bills are helping water and waste water companies “to look comprehensively at impacts of climate change ad make the right changes to their operations at an appropriate pace to benefit both consumers and the environment”.

Grrr, Ofwat may or may not have added.

Ofwat chief executive Regina Finn said in the press release:

“This policy statement pulls together in one single place, the comprehensive and wide-ranging policy actions Ofwat is taking to ensure the sector is responding to the challenges of climate change.”

The full “Preparing for the future” climate change policy statement by Ofwat is available here.

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