From sub-zero temperatures, high winds and blizzards to the longest heatwave since 1976, 2018 was a year of extreme weather challenges. As we worked to maintain water supplies, tackle leakage and encourage customers to play their part by using water wisely, we faced intense media scrutiny.
Between May and August 2018 there was significantly lower rainfall than average, and this was felt most acutely in North West England. It was the driest start to the summer since modern records began in 1961 and soaring temperatures contributed to a huge demand for water. At the height of the hot weather in June the demand for water rose by 500Ml/d – 25 per cent more than usual.
At one stage there was a possibility that we might have had to impose a temporary use ban if the extreme dry weather and increased demand had continued. Due to our own efforts, and those of our customers who responded to our calls to use water efficiently, this was avoided and we successfully maintained an unrestricted service.
The high demand caused localised problems with low pressure which we overcame using our fleet of alternative supply vehicles (ASVs). From the end of May to the beginning of September our ASVs worked 24 hours a day to pump into the supply network and help maintain water pressure.
These intense hot and dry conditions had followed on from several weeks of freezing conditions during the 'Beast from the East' in March. Pipe movements caused by the frozen ground resulted in high levels of background leakage, and as the ground continued to dry out over the summer this exacerbated the issue further. Customer calls about leaks increased as they became easier to spot against the dry ground. In response to the rising levels of leakage we had already recruited additional leak detection and repair crews and by mid-July we were repairing 750 leaks a week with double the number of teams working 24 hours a day.
To minimise any impact on customers we invoked our Drought Management Plan which sets out a series of pre-agreed actions that must be followed once certain trigger levels are crossed in our impounding reservoirs.
This included pumping water from the south of our region through the West East Link Main to ease pressure on our key reservoir at Haweswater. We also carried out a number of capital projects to bring back into service borehole supplies that had not been used for many years. We increased communication with customers to ask them to use water wisely, through regional and national media, and we applied to the Environment Agency for drought permits so that we could increase levels of water abstraction.
Our mitigation plan continued through the winter – by March 2019 reservoir levels had recovered to normal levels and we met our leakage target.