Tom Reynolds, CEO at the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, argues that water companies must now prioritise infrastructure investment and join manufacturers’ efforts to reduce water use.
Unsurprisingly, the UK faces pressing challenges concerning its water infrastructure and water scarcity issues. Among the headlines is the alarming situation of sewage being pumped into rivers and seas, and as summer approaches, hosepipe bans resurface, accompanied by calls from water companies to conserve water.
A recent incident involving Southern Water, where customers in West Sussex and Surrey were left without running water, exemplifies the consequences of an outdated and insufficient water infrastructure. The company attributed the failure to plant malfunctions and the inability to meet soaring demand. True, they tried to deliver bottled water and water stations were set up, but is this really what to expect in the modern UK?
This incident caused inconvenience and likely further eroded public trust in water companies. It highlights the urgent need for investment in infrastructure to ensure a reliable water supply, even during peak periods. However, Southern Water has suggested that bills increase an extra £279 by 2030 to fund improvements. You can imagine how this has been received when the total pay for chief executives at the 10 English and Welsh combined sewage and water businesses was £14.5m in the 2021-22 financial year.
In addition, southern regions across the UK are again grappling with hosepipe bans due to water scarcity concerns. These recurring bans signify the inadequate capacity of the current infrastructure to meet rising demand during peak seasons. If it remains unaddressed, these bans will become more frequent and widespread, impacting people's daily lives and hampering economic activities.
And in recent months, media headlines have consistently exposed the shocking reality of sewage being pumped into rivers and coastlines. These incidents have caused significant environmental harm, disrupted marine ecosystems, and posed health risks to humans and wildlife. The public's reaction to these events has been one of outrage, demanding immediate action to rectify the situation.
In light of these challenges, the UK's water infrastructure must undergo a significant overhaul in alignment with the innovative products developed by bathroom manufacturers.
We have long recognised the water scarcity challenge and have taken significant strides. Innovative products like low-flow showerheads, dual flush toilets, and aerated taps have become essential components in water-efficient bathrooms. These solutions enable individuals to conserve water without compromising their daily routines.
While bathroom manufacturers have played their part and will continue to do so, it is now the responsibility of water companies to step up and address their failings. Investment in improvements, such as upgrading wastewater treatment facilities, enhancing water distribution networks, building new reservoirs and implementing advanced water management systems, is crucial. By demonstrating leadership and urgent investment, companies can rebuild public confidence and ensure a sustainable water future for the UK.
In some defence of the water companies, the Environment Agency has just published its summary of England’s draft regional and water resources management plans, highlighting positive steps to meet the Government’s water demand targets as set out in the Environment Act 2021. However, it also outlines several risks and concerns that regional groups and water companies must address before publishing their final plans.
It is high time they step up, demonstrate effective leadership, and respect the responsibility of improving the country's water infrastructure to regain public confidence. Manufacturers are ready to be positive partners with water companies and other actors.