Delivering resilience is integral to our business

Delivering a high level of resilience, balanced with affordable bills, while at the same time responding to pressures from a changing climate, growing population, ageing infrastructure, and market competition is an ongoing challenge that requires a modern and innovative approach.

Preparing for climate change

The extreme weather we've experienced in recent years is widely expected to be a forerunner to longer term climate change impacts.

With this in mind, we considered a range of future challenges within our draft 2019 Water Resources Management Plan including:

  • Extreme drought, freeze-thaw, and flooding;
  • Climate change (100 scenarios under the latest UK climate projections, UKCP09); and
  • Demand (population growth, economic trends and patterns of water use).

We assessed risks over the 2020–45 planning period and took a long-term view at the 2080s. We published two adaptation reports, in 2011 and 2015, which outline our holistic, integrated and partnership approach to a range of short and long-term challenges including a changing climate.

We use our PIONEER system to identify the probability of failure, based on asset performance and health, to prioritise a programme of infrastructure improvements that ensures resilient supply under a range of challenging circumstances.

Our methodology follows best practice from the UK Water Industry Research Ltd (UKWIR), Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme (JESIP), and Cabinet Office guidance on addressing system resilience risks.

Learning from experience

Our approach to resilience is greatly enhanced by the lessons we learned following the extreme flooding and boil water notice in 2015 and 2016. Storms Desmond and Eva brought river levels significantly higher than ever recorded, demonstrating that flood defences and protection measures can be overwhelmed in extreme events.

We have new incident management procedures with detailed contingency plans, and a director-led incident review board. We introduced Priority Services, tailoring support to the more vulnerable members of society in emergencies, engaged with charities to help reach people who may benefit from this service, and agreed a memorandum of understanding with the British Red Cross to support us in assisting vulnerable customers in an incident.

Skills resilience

We have some key highly skilled roles, and our talent succession pipeline is critical to the seamless transfer of skills from one generation of employees to another. We have partnered with Teach First, and are an active participant in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programme. We have growing apprentice and graduate programmes, a state-of-the-art training centre and over 200 senior and front-line managers have been trained by the Emergency Planning College.

Systems Thinking delivers better operational resilience

We use asset monitoring and real-time data analytics from telemetry across our network to manage it in a way that improves interconnectivity and operational flexibility, using remote control and automation through our Integrated Control Centre (ICC).

Our innovative ERWAN (Event Recognition on the Water Network) system uses machine learning and sensors in the network to identify a 'normal' system signature, and generate an early warning alert and probable cause for any deviations. We have installed automatic shutdown and 'start-up to waste' at all of our water treatment sites, and are installing UV treatment at higher risk water treatment works. The new water treatment works we are building for West Cumbria is sized to meet peak demands with redundancy built in to ensure no single points of failure.

The ICC has a 24/7 duty manager who can lead an immediate, uniform, coordinated and effective response to breaking incidents to minimise the impact on customers, wider society and the environment.

Visible benefits

In February 2018 there were freeze-thaw issues across the country. Despite access difficulties during the period, we managed to minimise disruption of supply to customers by participating in multi-agency calls and initiating an incident, with a number of proactive actions.

Our enhanced capability in managing this incident meant we had no significant deterioration in service. No service reservoirs ran empty, and our water treatment works production was maintained throughout.

We have leading financial and corporate resilience

Long-term financial resilience starts with strong and effective risk management processes, and we believe we are at the frontier in this respect. Read more in Our competitive advantage.

Ofwat monitors financial resilience across the industry within its annual 'Monitoring financial resilience' report. The latest report can be found on Ofwat's website. As a public listed company, we also adhere to the highest levels of governance, accountability, and transparency.

Continuous improvement

Throughout the rest of this investment period, and into the next, we'll continue to learn and develop our resilience and have committed to reinvest £250 million of our anticipated net outperformance, in the current regulatory period, to deliver significant resilience benefits.