Supplying water to meet the needs of our region is a huge task, and we have to keep taps running whatever the weather. We have just had one of the driest Junes on record, but despite lots of debate on the issue in the media we do not have a shortage of supplies in this region.
Half our water comes from our reservoirs like Rutland Water, Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire, Alton Water in Suffolk and Pitsford Water near Northampton. These are currently 93% full – above average for this time of year. The other half comes from groundwater sources. There are 9 of these huge underground aquifers in our region where water is stored in porous rock and we draw off water through more than 400 boreholes. The levels for our boreholes are all currently normal, or above normal, for the time of year.
Demand for water has increased by 20% in recent weeks – an extra 200 million litres a day – as the heatwave has set in and our customers have been cooling down in paddling pools, watering their plants and generally enjoying the summer. Rainfall during the month was just 17% of the average.
But we’re used to lots of people needing water, and having little rain – ours is the driest region in the UK with just two thirds of the national average rainfall, and it’s also one of the fastest growing. Two of the five fastest growing cities are in our patch, with new homes being built all the time. So it’s something we have been planning for and investing in for a long time.
In recent years we’ve been busy building underground storage reservoirs and connecting different parts of the network. The huge Grafham Resilience Project, for example, saw us building the largest precast concrete reservoir in Europe next to Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire to store 44 million litres of treated water. The impetus for this project was the need to make our network resilient in the event of major power outages, and as a quarter of a million homes are set to be built in the area in the coming years. That tank is so massive that if you switched on a tap at one corner it would take five years to drain empty!
We have also invested in finding and fixing leaks on our network with hundreds of leakage technicians out and about every day – and night – finding and fixing leaks with technology like noise loggers and drones. This has helped us become UK industry leaders in tackling leaks. We fix around 30,000 leaks a year – many within 24 hours – and we’re putting smart valves into our network to stop the pressure spikes which cause the leaks and bursts in the first place.
Coping with June heatwave is one challenge – but coping with an increasingly uncertain future, climate change and a growing population for generations to come is quite another. So beginning next year we’ll be investing £500m to develop a new interconnected network of pipes to allow us to move water more easily around our region, and we’re working closely with farming leaders, councils and others to create a 25 year plan for water in the East. Together, we’re developing clever ways to capture and treat flood water directly before it’s sent to your taps and making use of ancient underground aquifers to store surplus water in winter for drier periods when it is really needed most.
Water is vital for our lives, from the food we eat, to our homes, our businesses and services like healthcare – and our job to keep the world-class water flowing is our priority day and night, 365 days a year – so it’s always there when you need it.