Ofwat flags data failures in water companies’ draft drought resilience plans

Ofwat has expressed concerns about the “level of detail and accuracy” in the data water companies have submitted for their emerging plans for safeguarding water supply, an ENDS analysis has revealed.

Leighton Reservoir in North Yorkshire. Source - GettyImages, Anne Coatesy

Water Resource Management Plans (WRMPs), which all water companies are required to prepare, are currently at the draft stage, with final copies due to be published by 2024. 

This month, Ofwat submitted its final consultation responses to these plans, with an ENDS analysis revealing that all but two water companies supplying England have been given scathing feedback in regard to their data tables.

Ofwat said it was “concerned about the level of detail and accuracy” applied to the tables, which often had “missing, incomplete, and resubmitted data”. In these cases, Ofwat said it had “limited [its] ability to assess the plan”.

Ofwat also expressed concerns that some companies have not planned to meet its requirement to plan at least a 50% reduction in leakage by 2050 from 2017-18 levels and reduce per capita consumption to 110 litres per head per day by 2050. 

Some have opted only to plan to meet the legally binding water target, set under the Environment Act, for companies to reduce the use of public water supply in England per head of population by 20% from the 2019/2020 baseline reporting year figures, by the end of the reporting year 2037/2038.

This is particularly significant as all water companies have expressed concerns about their preparedness for drought, with Ofwat requiring companies to include measures in their new WRMP plans to prepare to be resilient for a 1 in 500 year drought scenario by 2039, and to reduce the use of drought permits. 

Water policy officer at conservation charity WildFish, James Overington, said that the industry’s reliance on rivers for water extraction “has not been communicated honestly”.

Wildfish have been raising awareness of the risks posed to river health by emergency drought permits and orders being allowed, which lets companies temporarily abstract more from rivers, with the charity warning that overreliance on permits rather than boosting infrastructure could result in an “ecological catastrophe”.

Overington told ENDS: “Water companies do not want to produce open and accurate plans. 

“If they did, the industry’s mismanagement of our water resources would only become more apparent. 

“Underinvestment has left the industry overly dependent on unsustainable abstraction with alternative solutions a long way off.”

David Black, chief executive of Ofwat, said: “Customers depend on companies to provide reliable water supplies. This requires companies to prepare properly for population growth and the impact of climate change. 

“Our assessment of draft plans shows that companies have more work to do to develop their proposals to meet future challenges. Companies must take the opportunity to revisit and strengthen their plans.”

An Ofwat spokesperson said that it is important that it has confidence in the WRMP data tables provided by companies ahead of its assessments of company business plans this autumn so that it can set company targets, and determine funding allowances, effectively. 

However, the spokesperson added that some variance in data is expected at the draft stage of the process, and before companies develop their final plans.

A spokesperson for Water UK, which is a membership body representing the water industry, said: “This is the first time that the water industry has worked with local groups, regulators and other interested parties to produce comprehensive regional and local plans to protect water supplies from climate change and meet demand from a growing population.

 “These draft plans have been published as part of a consultation. Companies want to go as far as possible to ensure our water supply is secure for generations to come, and welcome feedback and support from members of the public as well as stakeholders, including regulators.”