Do you remember the drought of 1976? As a young lad I remember an endless summer with friends exploring the countryside around my home village south of Cambridge. Streams had dried up and ponds had turned to patterns of cracked mud. It was a blissful and carefree time, at least for me. I was oblivious of the standpipes, crop failures and forest fires others were suffering with.
I think it’s those long school summer holidays that gave me the time to develop my interest in wildlife and the countryside. It led me to an academic path dominated by the sciences and a career in the natural environment sector.
I was also pretty young when I first heard about climate change. Back then it was inaccurately called global warming. There was little hard science predicting the impacts of climate change back then but over the years climate science has developed significantly. The message is clear – we must do what we can to limit the impacts of climate change and adapt to the inevitable change coming our way. Anglian Water has to do the same.
The flooding we have seen on the news dramatically illustrates the need to prepare for the impacts of climate change. Flooded property brings misery to homeowners and has big impacts on the local economy. The media asked repeatedly whether the flood was caused by climate change – a question that brings the same responses from experts each time. With our varied weather it is not possible to blame one single event on climate change. Climate change can only be detected in the trends in weather patterns over the long term. But, unless we’re ready for it, the floods are a sign of things to come.
My climate change work at Anglian Water is focused on adaptation. This means helping the company cope with the many impacts climate change will have, such as flooding, drought and high temperatures. This is not a trivial challenge. We must invest our customers’ money wisely and we need to have confidence that spending money on adaptation measures will prove to have been the right thing to do. We have robust processes for assessing the merits of each investment we make and climate change investments will be tested just as hard.
But adapt we must. In the future the east of England faces less rainfall in summer and more in winter, more frequent heavy rainfall events and higher temperatures. Those summers of ’76 could be more common in the future. What does this mean each of us and the services Anglian Water provides? It means it’s likely there’ll less water available for us to put into the public water supply when demand is highest; lower water quality requiring more treatment; flooding and other events causing interruptions to supply; increased septicity in sewers (that’s more pongs to you and me) and more sewer flooding.
We’ve made good progress on many fronts. For example increasing water efficiency and driving down leakage to record low levels means that despite a 20% population growth since 1989 the amount of water put into supply has remained the same. This will help us cope with dwindling water resources. Guiding our work in coming years is our recently published adaptation plan. A key feature of it is working with others. We have to encourage others to take action if we are to be resilient to climate change.
Water is heavy and consequently we’re one of the biggest energy users in the region. It takes a lot of power to move water through the network and to treat water and used water. So we’re also working hard to reduce our carbon footprint. During 2012/13 as part of our carbon mitigation strategy we saved 11.84 GWh of electricity and generated 52 GWh of renewable power.
This year Anglian Water was a supporting partner of Climate Week which took place earlier this month and is Britain’s biggest climate change campaign involving half a million people each year. Climate Week aims to inspire a new wave of action by demonstrating how easy it is for people to do their bit to help create a sustainable future. It proved to be a great opportunity for us to engage with our customers and staff on the need to take action on climate change. All week we focused on how climate change affects different aspects of our work and what we’re doing about it, so we can continue to serve our customers. We also started what we hope will be a long term partnership with The DoNation, encouraging our staff to play their part at home or work by pledging to make a small change in their lifestyles. As they say, through simple behaviour changes around travel, waste, energy and food habits, employees can drive energy and financial savings, whilst saving time and improving their own health and well being.
Personally, I’m hoping for a goldilocks summer this year – not too hot, not too dry, just right.
Watch Chris and Andy’s DoNation appeal to staff at Anglian Water to make pledges to reduce carbon…(and make sure you stay tuned for the outtakes!)