Hosepipe bans a sticking plaster solution for our leaky infrastructure

Posted: Wednesday 25th July 2018

United Utilities' impending hosepipe ban demonstrates the 'sticking plaster' mentality the UK has towards its leaky water infrastructure, says Simon Drain, managing director of Kobus Services.

Affecting up to seven million people, the ban should be viewed in the context of Ofwat's proposed leakage target of a reduction of 15% between 2020 and 2025 - down from its current figure of 19%. Given the fact that England and Wales loses an estimated 3.1 billion litres of water every day due to leaking pipes, Drain believes this challenge should be the priority for water companies rather than restricting homeowners' use of hosepipes.

He said: "It's sadly predictable that as soon as we get a heatwave in this country, we see hosepipe bans. I understand that the utility businesses need to do everything they can to preserve water stocks, but they're being really hampered by old legislation that prevents them getting to the real issue - leaking pipes."

According to current law, water companies only own the pipeline up to the boundary of a property (i.e. the pavement outside). The homeowner owns the section that connects the mains supply to their house (literally a few metres underneath their front garden).

This longstanding scenario creates a problem for utility companies, who have ended up being measured on leakage on infrastructure they don't own and therefore cannot easily manage or control. Drain explains: "Water companies are between a rock and a hard place here - on one hand having to manage potential fines from Ofwat for leaks, while on the other faced with homeowners or insurance companies unwilling or unable to allow access, or fund the replacement of the leaking pipe."

Kobus is calling for a change in legislation that will transfer ownership, and therefore access rights of the total pipework infrastructure, back to the water companies. This way, Ofwat can be much more ambitious with its anti-leak targets.

The company also highlights the fact that non-invasive pipe-pulling technology now exists to facilitate the removal of old underground service pipework with minimal disruption. "Systems such as ours would enable utility companies to undertake remedial work without the need for major excavation and costly reinstatement. It would be a win:win situation, allowing water companies to meet tough new targets, while maintaining a good relationship with their customers," says Drain.

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April 2021

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