Water companies accused of downgrading leaks until the drought crisis looms

Water companies say leaks can increase during a drought as infrastructure is put under extra strain, but critics say they should be doing more to find and fix leaks before a crisis hits.

“Water companies shouldn’t wait until a crisis to act,” said Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman.

“It is grossly negligent for them to hold out until a drought to finally up their game on fixing leaks. This is a slap in the face for the millions facing hosepipe bans this month.

“For years they have put shareholders’ needs first and now Britain is left with leaking pipes and endless sewage overflows into our rivers. It is time they put the public and environment first.”

Further hosepipe bans are expected across the country as the Government considers announcing official drought status in the worst-hit parts of the country. But critics say water companies’ record on leaks undermines the message that households should use less water to avoid shortages and further restrictions.

Cost-benefit on fixing leaks

South East England has had the driest year since 1976, data shows, with 144 days with little or no rain since January.

Alistair Chisholm, of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, said there was a cost-benefit analysis by water companies on fixing leaks.

“There was always this concept called the economic level of leakage. And it was just a kind of a cost benefit analysis as to whether it was worth it for the customer to invest,” he said.

“It’s cheaper to treat up lots of water, and then let it leak away, than it is to actually dig up tons and tons of pipes.”

Thames Water, which has the worst record on leaks, was on Monday criticized for its “slow” response to a burst water main in Islington, north London. Just days before the company had urged people to cut down their water use and said it may be forced to bring in a hosepipe ban if the dry weather continues.

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