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Prevention and Cure

How and Why UK Businesses Must Get Proactive on Water Supply

Only a month into 2021 and the media is already awash with images of flooded homes and business premises. A consequence of climate change and land overuse, these water-related emergencies are now commonplace over the winter months, while drought scenarios inevitably follow on over the summer.

For many businesses, overcoming these challenges have become a time consuming and costly affair on an increasingly frequent basis, but is all this effort preventable in the context of global warming?

Water management expert, Neil Pendle at Waterscan, and temporary water supply specialist, Sven Parris at Water Direct, say yes – but only if you get proactive.

How big a problem is this, and what are the causes of water supply interruptions? Sven says: We take continuity of water for granted but supply interruptions are extremely common, and the causes are varied. It could be low pressure due to increased demand, accidental damage to mains networks, ageing infrastructure simply collapsing or extreme weather – floods, frost, thaw, drought. Over 47,000 water mains burst across the UK last year alone.

Can you give us some examples of clients that have experienced significant impacts as a result of a water supply issue? Neil comments: “For manufacturing and food processing organisations, a water interruption carries greater commercial risks than simply production downtime. Aside from potential product wastage, there’s also the potential for contractual fines for non-delivery of goods, health and safety risks to staff, customers and visitors, negative publicity and reputational damage, perhaps even regulatory investigations. The impacts are exacerbated throughout manufacturing supply chains from raw material suppliers to end customers.”

Sven agrees. “In manufacturing, if you’re not producing, you’re not earning. A manufacturing company we work with told us that factory downtime costs them £60,000 every hour,” he says.

“The public sector can be severely affected too, of course. We responded to an emergency call from a large hospital that had no water supply for more than 24 hours. Having not experienced such a serious outage before, the management team and facilities management company were under the impression that they would be guaranteed a level of service and response time from their water company but this was not contractual, nor forthcoming. Thankfully, Water Direct was able to provide alternative water supplies within four hours.”

Neil also cites companies operating in the leisure and hospitality sectors that are particularly at risk. “After agriculture and industry, leisure sites rank number one for water usage. Water plays a critical role in their service offering and customer experience: they need to keep pools open, showers flowing, bars and restaurants serving, laundries buzzing and landscaping immaculate to maintain and attract revenue,” he says.

Whose responsibility is it to deal with a water-related issue on a commercial property? “In the event of a problem, water wholesalers’ regulatory obligations are primarily to household customers and, in this environment, the scale and speed of their response is closely monitored. Non-household customers, on the other hand, are generally expected to maintain their own business continuity plans for managing unplanned changes in water services,” advises Sven.

“Unfortunately, research suggests that 66% of businesses have no contingency plan in place to deal with water quality or supply issues at all. While organisations invest heavily in emergency power generators and IT back-up and support, our experience is that leadership teams do not routinely consider water with the same importance as these other supply risks. But, when a customer experiences a problem, they turn into a distressed customer. They don’t know where to turn, they weren’t expecting a cost, they don’t fully understand the options.”

How should companies mitigate water risks? “All business continuity plans should consider both prevention and cure: what can be done to minimise water related risks in the first place (which is where Waterscan comes in) and, when there is an unplanned water event, clear direction on what should be done to swiftly bridge the gap until supplies are restored – an area that Water Direct specialises in,” suggests Neil.

He continues: “A data-driven approach is absolutely critical because every customer scenario is different and their plans need to be adjusted accordingly, particularly those whose processes are sensitive to changes in water supply. Waterscan works very closely with customers to make sure that they have all the insight they need to prevent problems occurring in the first place. We support our customers with timely, accurate meter reads and overlay this with decades of experience and unique intelligent mapping techniques to identify high risk scenarios at the earliest opportunity. This means they can plan for resilience with confidence.”

“For example, if our data indicates that a particular hotel is using considerably more water than a comparable benchmark site, we know there’s likely to be a problem. It could simply be that staff training is required or it could mean leaking pipes – water that the business is paying for but not benefiting from. More importantly, this data provides early warning of bigger, longer-term problems on the horizon, if for example, that hotel happens to be in a high-risk geography.”

Technology can assist too, as Sven highlights: “Pressure loggers, for example, will alert facilities teams to impending problems, enabling them to take preventative action, such as calling for on-site storage tanks to provide a buffer if the mains supply fails.”

What three things could they do right now? Neil and Sven agree on three immediate steps.

  • First, don’t accept that water supply continuity for your business is someone else’s problem: it isn’t.
  • Second, don’t assume that your water suppliers will provide the level of service you anticipate if you report a problem. Speak to your wholesaler and retailer to understand their position so that you are clear on if and how they will support you, and the speed and scale of response you should expect. This will help you calculate the commercial and operational risks with a degree of clarity and inform your strategic planning.
  • Third, ensure that water supply interruption is on your corporate risk register and addressed via a continuity plan. This should cover all identified risks and provide direction on who to call on in the event of an issue.

What are the various approaches to business continuing planning when it comes to water? “The usual cornerstones of business continuity practice are the ‘4Ps’: people, processes, premises and providers. Some companies have the inhouse skills to understand their water networks and the risks and consequences of a supply interruption, but if you do not, never be afraid to ask for help.” advises Sven. The important thing to remember is that a plan does not need to be complex, but it must be fit for purpose and tailored to the particular needs of individuals sites. And, of course, all business continuity plans should be tested and reviewed periodically to make sure they remain appropriate before they are needed in a real-life scenario.”

Neil agrees: “Water is a fast-emerging issue, not just from a sustainability standpoint but from a commercial one too. In recent years, investors have joined the group of stakeholders who want to see companies act responsibly when it comes to water. This is why Waterscan is working with the Carbon Disclosure Project to encourage more businesses to disclose their performance on water and to commit to improvements year on year. Investors know that water scarcity is a clear and present danger – and it’s not a business risk they want to take.”

 

Waterscan provides strategic and comprehensive water management, identifying inefficient uses of water and offering solutions that radically improve efficiency and reduce cost. www.waterscan.com

Water Direct is a planned and emergency temporary water supplier, providing bulk drinking water wherever and whenever it’s needed. www.water-direct.co.uk