What digital solutions are there for a water industry under pressure?


Water companies will have to adopt a ‘one-water’ strategy if they are to overcome the complex challenges of water quality and availability, and data will be at the core

01 / The water challenge

With the UK’s water sector under huge scrutiny, the submission of water companies’ PR24 business plans to Ofwat in October 2023 is an important milestone. If they are to successfully address the parallel challenges associated with water quality and availability, system resilience and affordability, the water companies will need to adopt a joined-up, “one-water” approach  – and, increasingly, data will be part of that, supplementing hard infrastructure.

At present, the water sector finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Public disapproval of water quality and water company performance has never been greater. Financial pressures are approaching crisis point for some firms, because of high interest rates. However, even as water companies are held to account for their unauthorised sewage spillages, both Ofwat and the Environment Agency are also under fire for their passive approach to regulation and enforcement. The Environment Act has created new priorities such as biodiversity net gain, more challenging targets, and stricter control regimes. Even as £1.6bn of capital spend is brought forward to address priority issues including sewage overflows, the increasing cost of finance is making water infrastructure a less compelling proposition for investors.

The UK’s water system is a mature network. Water companies are responsible for over 200,000 miles of pipework, including 62,000 miles of combined sewers. In addition to the challenges of improving the existing network, which loses a trillion litres a year through leaks, water companies also must plan for the impacts of climate change, and for increased demand.

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