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Focused on protecting the environment this summer

26th July 2019

Perry Hobbs, Head of Environment, talks about the work that goes on behind the scenes to manage the region's water and wastewater services over the challenging summer months

As the schools break up for summer and hundreds of thousands of visitors set their sat-navs for holiday hotspots around the region, South West Water is working hard behind the scenes to manage the region’s precious drinking water supplies and help ensure the rivers and bathing waters are of the highest quality for everyone to enjoy.

This time last year, one of the hottest summers on record created huge additional demand on our 29 region-wide drinking water treatment works, with production increasing by almost a quarter. At the peak of the dry period we were supplying an extra 54 million litres of drinking water a day – equivalent to more than 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools. We also sent out additional leakage teams to tackle the increased number of leaks and bursts caused by ground movement resulting from the hot, dry conditions.

Customers should be reassured that even when local reservoir levels look lower than usual, South West Water has made significant investment in our ability to move water around the region to ensure we can meet everyone’s needs. This has helped us avoid the need for any water restrictions (hosepipe bans) for twenty-two consecutive years. Burrator reservoir, which provides drinking water for Plymouth, for example, is currently at around 55% but we can bring supplies in from other nearby sources as and when necessary. We monitor the reservoir levels and weather forecasts very closely to help us manage the region’s drinking water effectively.

At the same time, we would encourage everyone to ‘play their part, be water smart’ this summer as it helps ensure our reservoirs and rivers are healthy, as well as keeping bills down. Every litre of water saved is a litre left back in the natural environment.

Small steps like not leaving taps running and fixing leaks in the home can make a big difference when multiplied across our entire customer base. Gardeners, in particular, can help in all sorts of ways – alongside the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) we’re encouraging the green-fingered to take steps such only watering seedlings and planters first thing in the morning or late in the evening so the water doesn’t simply evaporate, choosing plants which are hardier in dry weather, and using a water butt.

On the wastewater side of our business, the summer months bring a different set of challenges, not least the extra pressure placed on our network and 653 wastewater treatment works by the influx of visitors. Ensuring wastewater is treated to the highest standard, protecting bathing water and river water quality, and minimising the risk of any pollution are all key areas of focus and we’ve made a great deal of progress in recent years. 2018 saw us achieve our best-ever performance against the official wastewater treatment standards (which measure the quality of the treated wastewater being returned to the environment) and the region achieved its best-ever bathing water quality results against the tough EU standards – great news for the vital tourism industry and testament to a lot of hard work by communities, businesses, councils and conservation groups.

Those efforts continue and there is more work to be done. Many readers will have seen recent headlines about pollution following the publication of the Environment Agency’s report on water company performance (10th July). Pollutions are classified according to their impact on the environment – the most serious being Category 1&2. We are focused on preventing any pollution occurring and since 2015 have brought the number of serious pollutions down year-on-year. In 2018 there were two of these incidents in the South West Water region (far fewer than most other regions and against an overall national total of 48) and we have a programme of work underway to bring this down to zero by 2020. Disappointingly, in 2018, we missed our target for preventing the less serious or minor (Category 3) pollutions. This was reflected in the report and is something we are already seeking to address through a range of targeted improvements in 2019.

While this summer is foremost in our minds, we have not lost sight of the long-term challenges ahead. Climate change and population growth have significant implications for the future of this incredible region, its environment and the services we provide as a company. That’s why we are working with our supply chain and University partners to actively seek out and explore new, more sustainable ways of managing drinking water and wastewater. The recent announcement of £10 million part-funding from Research England for the new Centre for Resilience in Environment, Water and Waste – a joint project between the University of Exeter and South West Water – is a hugely welcome development in this regard.

Protecting the environment is a complex task and there are many organisations and individuals playing their part to keep the South West special. While we’re asking customers to do their bit, our people will continue to work hard behind the scenes 24/7 to ensure everything flows smoothly this summer.

For further information please contact:

South West Water