Water Matters 2023: Inspiring action on water resilience

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On 22nd June, Waterscan convened the first in a new annual conference, Water Matters.

In the context of rising concern around water availability, the event was devised to provide insights into the reality of water scarcity and inspire action on how we might respond to these.

Opening proceedings, Waterscan Managing Director, Neil Pendle explained, “We are in extraordinary times. The impacts of climate change, pollution and over-abstraction mean that water is rarely out of the news. The positive in this is that awareness of our challenges around water are greater than ever before. Today, we are all here to focus on possible solutions and the positive interventions necessary to secure a water resilient future.”

Five takeaways:

  1. The UK will have a water deficit of 4bn litres a day by 2050 without urgent intervention.
  2. England has the lowest level of biodiversity in the G7 and ranks 189th in the world, largely driven by water scarcity.
  3. Collaboration, engagement, knowledge share and new approaches are critical to securing a water-resilient future.  
  4. The water market is making slow progress on achieving better customer outcomes and driving efficiency. Companies that Self-Supply continue to outperform the rest of the market.
  5. Behaviour change around reducing water consumption is challenging, but everyone is capable of change through collective action and intelligent activism.

Water Matters considered water resilience from three perspectives – environment impacts,  technology and innovation, and the functioning of the water market.  

Drawing on his 30 years’ experience of campaigning for the environment, Keynote Speaker Chris Hines, MBE gave an inspiring and passionate talk on the role of collective action and intelligent activism in inspiring positive change to address huge challenges. He commented on how little water was considered when compared to other industries and urged businesses to be more responsible in their water use. The empowering takeout was that everyone is capable of change.

Also speaking from an environmental perspective was Dr Louise Bardsley from Natural England who revealed that the UK is one of the most depleted countries in terms of biodiversity and the health of our natural environments. This is largely driven by water scarcity. Defra’s Aaron Burton outlined why and how the government is acting on water through its Water Efficiency Roadmap and Plan for Water, and Lee Dance, representing Water Resources South East presented how its regional plan supports the national framework to reduce water leakage.

Having explored the environmental context, the second theme of the day explored potential solutions, shining a light on new ideas, approaches and opportunities for collaboration.

Anglian Water, represented by Shaunna Berendsen, advised that there remains little understanding of how much water people use, and gave examples of how the wholesaler is creatively educating residents to drive down water use in what is the UK’s driest water resource zone.

Barry Millar, Waterscan Operations Director highlighted innovative and technological advances, going on to suggest that Self-Supply is arguably the biggest innovation the water market has seen to date. He also provided food for thought through interesting examples of efficiency initiatives taking place in water stressed areas around the world. This theme underpinned the session by Ofwat’s Marc Hannis, who was keen to emphasise how open the regulator is to new ideas, highlighting opportunities arising from the Ofwat Innovation Fund.

Concluding the innovation theme, Karma Loveday, Editor of The Water Report hosted a panel entitled The Pathway to Innovation. The conversation covered a wide range of issues including; whether we should be driving for water security rather than innovation, how to ramp up the pace of change, how water customers might get more involved, and what barriers need to be overcome, including investment, regulation and trust.

The Water Market was the third theme of the day, providing a succinct briefing on the status of the non-household market, which accounts for a significant 30% of water use.   

Shaun Kent from Ofwat, summarised the regulator’s vision for the market and requested input on what customers want to see happen. This prompted discussion around the measurement of water efficiency programmes, price rises, smart metering and regulatory intervention to remove barriers to competition.

Independent Chair of the Strategic Panel, Trisha McAuley, reiterated the need to optimise customer outcomes. She also touched on the Panel’s disappointment with water companies’ Draft Water Resource Management Plans and highlighted the Panel’s Interim National Metering Strategy. MOSL, represented by Sarah McMath, expanded on these points, noting that many of the Draft WRMPs completely excluded the non-household market. She also expressed concern about the current Market Performance Framework, which the market operator is currently reforming. Separately, the Self-Supply community typically experiences 100% data quality and outstanding market performance level of over 99%.

Feedback on the conference has been extremely positive.

“This event was really interesting – a good line-up of speakers and a much broader discussion than I was expecting. I left with an even greater conviction that the entire business community needs to do much more on water.”  

Simon Taylor, Environmental and Sustainability Manager at Aston Manor

To view and download our full report, please click the below.

The Water Report also covered the conference, which you can view here.

To find out how your business can do more on water and to be a part of the Water Matters conversation in 2024, please contact us.

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