Winter floods: Water companies have learned valuable lessons

Water companies found themselves in the eye of the storm of this winter floods which caused huge disruption for many communities. Our Chair Alan Lovell explains how the industry has learned valuable lessons.

Earlier this month our Board visited Preston to discuss with water companies from across the north of England some of the big issues they have been grappling with.

Not surprisingly flooding was high on the agenda as we explored the devastating impact the wettest December on record had had on communities.

Staff from United Utilities, Yorkshire Water and Northumbrian Water found themselves in the eye of the storm as they battled to protect infrastructure and safeguard the essential services the companies have a duty to deliver to their customers.

For the most part they succeeded, and I was impressed with how some other regional water companies also rallied to their aid. But the companies have also learned lessons which they must act on as they prepare for the inevitable prospect of future storms and flooding.

Companies faced difficulties in tracking down some vulnerable customers who had been forced to evacuate their homes, so they could get important assistance or information to them.

One of the ways companies hope to overcome this in the future is through all agencies sharing information on the movement of people even more effectively.

Of course ‘customer vulnerability’ is a complex issue in itself and companies need to gain an even better understanding of who may be ‘vulnerable’ when confronted with a whole host of circumstances, not just flooding.

Operationally companies also need to make changes to some treatment plants and other assets where power supplies or control panels fell foul of the rising flood waters. We hope to see evidence that these improvements lead to even less disruption for water customers in the event of future flooding.

This article first appeared in Utility Week