Reducing leakage is one of our greatest priorities. It’s still a massive task given the size, age, location and complexity of our network, but we’ve started to make progress. While there’s a lot to do to achieve our longer-term goal we’re confident we’re going in the right direction, and we’re now publishing monthly leakage reports on our website here.
With over one third of our water pipes over 100 years old, and an average pipe age of 80 years, we have the oldest network in the UK, and much of it is also intertwined with other utility pipes buried deep beneath the streets of the capital. Two thirds of leaks on our network of 31,000km of water pipes are under London, but most of these leaks never reach the surface, which makes it harder for us to find them. And even when we know where they are, it’s often very difficult to fix them without causing significant disruption for everyone trying to go about their daily lives above ground.
Before we try to create additional water supplies, it’s essential for us to manage what we already have more effectively. Leaks are inevitable on a network of our enormous size and age, but it’s vital we invest wisely to reduce leakage and to improve our resilience.
Our leakage performance.
We welcome the conclusion of Ofwat's investigation into our leakage performance. With £55 million of automatic penalties, combined with the £65 million we’ve put forward to compensate for our performance, a total of £120 million will be returned to our customers.
We set ourselves challenging targets for this five year regulatory period, because we know it’s very important to our customers and the environment. After beating our leakage target for ten years in a row, we missed it in 2016/17, and we know the condition of our water network has been failing some of our customers.
Following last year’s disappointing leakage performance, we put a structured recovery plan in place to bring performance back to our target level of 606Mld in 2020, backed with an extra £140 million investment. The significant problems our customers experienced in March during the ‘Beast from the East’ had a negative impact on our leakage performance, putting us back a few steps from where we wanted to be, however, we are still on track to meet our target for 2020.
We haven’t met our regulatory target for this year, with leakage up on last year at 695Ml/d. Although we won’t meet next year’s target either, we’re on track to meet our target in 2019/2020.
Our aspiration is to bring leakage down by a further 15 per cent during the next regulatory period (2020-2025) and to halve it in the longer term, and we’ve changed our approach to lay the right groundwork to achieve this.
Getting back on track.
In 2015 we developed an innovative model with our infrastructure partners, which outsourced leakage detection and repair. This proved ineffective, and led to us completing fewer repairs than were necessary to meet our 2016/17 target. So we’ve made changes to bring leakage management back in-house again, and our recovery plan is designed to get us back on track by 2020.
With cost and disruption limitations we know we can’t eliminate leaks overnight, but we’re being smarter in our approach to leakage reduction to ensure we make the most of our investment and deliver more for our customers in the long term.
We’ve been increasing the speed of our operational response to leaks, with our best ‘find and fix’ leakage repair rate since 2011/12. We’re now completing an average of 1,000 leakage repairs every week. With 25 per cent of leaks on customer pipes, we’re also helping customers by fixing these leaks for free.
The number of Thames Water employees increased last year, partly because we’ve brought resources in-house, and we’ve recruited more skilled frontline employees to complement field teams and analysts who provide valuable insights from our data.
We’ve also been investing in new technology such as 26,000 acoustic loggers which locate leaks through the noise the escaping water makes, smart meters which can detect continual flow at a customer’s property which could indicate a problem, data analytics, and work management systems. All of these have improved our ability to use data about our network to help us find leaks. Read more by clicking on the case study below:
Communicating with customers.
To help our customers and stakeholders keep up to date with how we’re cutting leaks, and understand our performance, we’re now publishing monthly leakage reports on our website here. The faster we find out about leaks, the more water we can save. So we’ve made it easier than ever for our customers to help us find and fix leaks quicker. Our customers can now call our free Leakline on 0800 714614, tweet @thameswater using the hashtag #tweetaleak, or visit our website thameswater.co.uk to report a leak online.