WaterFuture - Get into water

Working together for the South West's water

I’m Susan Davy, and just over 18 months ago, I became the CEO of South West Water.

Our job - providing clean water every hour of every day of the year is so important. We’re integral to communities right across the South West and what makes me most proud, are the people who work alongside me, committed to serving our customers.

In February, we announced that average water bills for our customers will fall in 2022, bringing welcome relief right across our region, at a time when escalating energy and food costs are concerning many. We did it, because it’s the right thing to do, and because it’s our role to listen and respond, to innovate and help find solutions to the challenges we all face today and for generations to come. 

Over the past few months, I’ve also been listening to our customers, to politicians and regulators, to campaigners and the media to discuss the UK’s sewerage system, the way it operates and the use of storm overflows and their impact on the UK’s waterways. I’m pleased we’re having that discussion – there’s nothing more important than water, it’s essential for life, health and the planet.

It’s also true we have a challenge. Our region has a vast network of pipes over 19,000 km long, the equivalent length from here to Australia. Each year, we balance investment to maintain it, to make sure that sewage doesn’t flood your homes, businesses and gardens whilst at the same time, ensuring quality drinking water is there when you need it, whenever you turn on the tap.

We’re also a region that sees huge population swings through the year, and where river pollution from valued regional industries such as farming and mining, together with urban run-off is also increasing. And whilst wet wipes help millions of people every day stay clean, they are choking our sewers.

In addition, climate change is making the problem worse. Earlier this year, the South West emerged from some of the worst storms we’ve seen, and it was devastating to see the impacts.

I know the company I lead has a vital role to play in making our streams and rivers, and the ocean they flow into, clean and free from pollution. Spill levels from our sewerage system are at an unacceptable high, whatever the causes, and we need to do more to change this. The more we’re learning as we monitor what’s happening on our networks and in our rivers, the more we’re discovering about the design of a Victorian sewage system here and across the UK, and its limitations in today’s society. It’s an uncomfortable truth.

 

That's why I'm already taking steps to reduce South West Water's impact on river water quality by one third by 2025. We can’t change the design of the system overnight, it will take time, but we will be open and transparent about the progress we are making.     

I also want to recognise the achievements that the people who live here have already made. I am very proud to live and work in a region that this year, for the first time ever, achieved 100% bathing water quality, with 98% rated as 'Good' or 'Excellent', compared to c.28% in the 1990's. A combination of our significant investment in infrastructure and technology over many years, with communities and action groups coming together, with real-time monitoring empowering customers, has been transformational for our 860 miles of coastline.

In addition, South West Water owns 40 inland lakes, playing a vital role in capturing and storing water and so much more. Last year over 2 million visitors spent time at one of our lakes, enjoying a host of activities from walking, to cycling, paddle boarding to angling. It shows the extraordinary progress we’ve made together in this part of the country, and where the quality of our water is so uniquely vital to tourism and investment. 

And I do mean the progress ‘we’ have all made. South West Water has a vital role to play; but so too does everyone who lives and works in the region, and I want to say thank you for your support and for working with us. 

I also want you to keep working with us. The recent enquiry into river quality, acknowledged that the health of our rivers is far more than just a sewage problem and that a great deal of progress had been made in cleaning up and monitoring bathing waters to ensure they are fit for bathing. We now need to do the same for our rivers.

We’re already acting, installing hundreds of monitors on our rivers, and with pilots on the Dart and Tavy, investing in technology and innovative solutions. And we’ll continue working with farmers and partners right across the region to continue to develop nature-based solutions.

So, what can you do to help? Our teams remove over 450 tonnes of rag a year from our sewers, equivalent to 30 double decker buses. Every time we flush a wet wipe, or pour cooking oil down the sink, the end result is pollution of some form.

The water that comes out of your tap whenever you need it, the water that’s processed in treatment works, and the water that flows from streams into rivers into the sea isn’t my water or my colleagues’ water – it’s the South West’s water, and I’m looking forward to carry on working with you to ensure it’s always something the South West can be proud of for generations to come.

Did you know?

  • Most of the time, we’re supplying and supporting 2m customers in the South West, and that can increase to over 9m during busy periods, placing huge demands on our networks and water supply.
  • Drinkable fresh water is rare. It makes up only 2.5% of all the water on our planet, and only 1% of that is accessible.  
  • This year marks the 25th consecutive year of no water restrictions in the South West. Every time we leave a tap running, we risk that.
  • We have over a 19,000 km system of combined sewage and surface water pipe network – equivalent to the distance between here and Australia.
  • Pressure in the network is caused by volumes of run-off and sewage as well as what enters the system, like wet wipes and fat, oil and grease.
  • Storm overflows are designed to trigger and release at times of pressure in the network to avoid polluting homes and businesses.

 

  • We are taking steps to reduce South West Water's impact on river water quality by one third by 2025.
  • 100% of our Storm overflows will be monitored by 2023.
  • We remove over 450 tonnes of rag a year from our sewers – equivalent to 30 double decker buses. Flushing a wet wipe down the toilet or pouring cooking oil down the sink, causes pollutions to happen.
  • With pilots in the Dart and Tavy, we are working together to achieve the regions’ first ever bathing water status.
  • Working with farmers, we’ve helped to restore over 90,000 hectares, with nature-based solutions.