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Water supply solutions provider comments on Ofwat report into 2018 winter disruption in UK

Posted on 5th July 2018 at 10:02am

The nationwide emergency water supplier that played a key role in the response to the aftermath of the ‘Beast from the East’ has delivered its perspective on the water services regulation authority Ofwat report ‘Out in the Cold’. Ofwat’s report outlines the response of UK water companies to the freeze following severe winter weather and subsequent thaw in late February and early March 2018.

Ofwat says it has written individually to each company: "We expect each company to publicly respond to this report and their individual letter by 28 September 2018. Water UK, the water company industry body, will also coordinate work across the industry to share best practice and improve collaboration in key areas." (Image courtesy Ofwat)

The report notes that losing water supply can cause: “Huge disruption to people’s lives and livelihoods,” adding that: “Water provision is fundamental for everyday life. When that supply is cut off it is not long before the basics become difficult. You cannot flush the toilet, wash, clean clothes or have a drink. If you are sick, elderly or disabled this can affect your health and cause real distress and worry. Businesses cannot operate and people lose money. When that supply goes off for days, those impacts become exponentially worse.”

The rapid thaw that followed the severe winter weather, known as the ‘Beast from the East’, caused significant disruption to a large number of water customers. The rapid change in temperature led to many burst pipes, with over 200,000 customers cut off from supply for more than four hours, with tens of thousands off for days.

The report found that some companies did not have appropriate plans in place for this type of incident while other, better performing companies, used real time information and monitoring systems to identify and manage the issues, demonstrating: “Resilience in their systems to increase production and move water to where it was most needed.” Ofwat also noted that co-ordination between the seriously affected companies was poor, leading to local authorities and voluntary groups stepping in to assist affected households.

“There were many examples of companies not communicating effectively with customers and stakeholders,” according to the report, which added that where better performance was observed, companies had been communicating effectively with stakeholders before, during and after the incident.

The report examined the planning, communication and response delivered by the UK’s water companies and praised those that responded well, highlighting best practice including having precautionary tankers on standby at water critical sites and bottled water supplies at pre-planned locations.

One private sector company, Water Direct, worked around the clock to provide millions of litres of emergency water to thousands of UK households, businesses and vulnerable sites affected by the sudden thaw, and has commented on the Ofwat report.“The report found that frontline staff worked tirelessly during the incident, and Water Direct is proud to have supported many of the water utility companies and their customers,” it said.

Ofwat Chief Executive, Rachel Fletcher noted: “The freeze and rapid thaw earlier this year was forecast and was not unprecedented. A number of water companies showed what can be done to serve customers in the face of bad weather.”

Following the report Water Direct’s Sven Parris commented, “It’s important that the industry learns from this experience and makes robust plans for the future; in all likelihood this will not be an isolated scenario.

“Effective alternative water supply solutions are more important now, as water utility company customers are better informed and have higher expectations than ever before. For me the message from the report is that the industry must be more proactive in the management of those alternative supplies.

“This is why Water Direct has developed its existing alternative supply solutions: the UK’s first and only Nationwide Bottled Water Bank, millions of litres of quality assured bottled water, stored at strategic locations for widespread distribution at short notice, and state of the art network injection technology where water tankers can provide pressurised supply directly into an isolated network.”

He added: “For me, industry-wide investment in alternative supply solutions and collaborative management is key.”

One of Water Direct's fleet of drinking water tankers

In the last 12 months, Water Direct has invested in its dedicated drinking water tanker fleet and more than doubled the Nationwide Bottled Water Bank stock. “We will continue with our mission to work with water wholesalers, retailers and businesses to deliver resilience and best practice through collaboration and planning,” said Parris.

Read Water Direct’s full response to the Ofwat report here

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