1 Mar 2010

Wessex Water meeting: sewage, pesticides, charges, OFWAT and more

More than a couple of weeks ago I attended the Wessex Water Customer Liaison panel on behalf of Stroud District Council - here are some of the issues we discussed - see also earlier blog today regarding the question I raised about sewage sludge being used in farming.

Photo: entrance to WW

Final Business Plan

You can see my comments on the earlier version here - OFWAT have since issued the Final Business Plan (FBP) which was accepted by Wessex Water. I am delighted that some of the points raised have been included although not regarding metering. I moved that the panel should send a letter to OFWAT welcoming some of the moves but disappointment that not all measures had been included.

Basicaly the outcome of the Final Determination is that WW has a large investment plan to deliver improved services - 97% of what was requested got through - but the business also faces tougher targets to maintain existing assets. Investment includes improving drinking water quality, water supply reliability, and reduction in sewage flooding, improving the environment and reducing the risk of pollution. While the official key objectives include ensuring WW is the industry leaders in customer service, to maximise opportunities arising from potential retail separation and customer competition. Some of this will include 74km of pipes replaced to improve water quality, 2,000 lead pipes replaced of an estimated 8,000 remaining, 310km of pipes replaced to reduce leakage, 500 customers to be removed from sewer floods, 15 seage planst to meet new EU standards etc

One key development will be the construction of the 112km regional water grid will take eight years to complete. The benefits of this are that it will ensure WW customers have at least two sources of supply. There is potential to sell to others which would also allow the transfer of water from one area to another.

OFWAT decided that WW bills should rise by 0.6% per year above inflation. This year WW has also designed a new less cluttered bill and billing leaflet.

Bristol Water who now have French owners after having Spanish, have rejected their determination and have submitted a case to the Competition Commission. This is a £2m risky move - they are the only ones to challenge it and it will be interesting to see how far they get.

Customer service awards

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) hosted their first awards ceremony which was held in London. Wessex Water won the “Best customer service” award. The CAB said “The award went to Wessex Water for its innovative work in providing a range of schemes that prevent customers from being forced into poverty because of their inability to afford their water bills”. Citizens Advice Bureaux’s across England and Wales say “Wessex Water is the best water provider to work with as they are exceptionally engaged and committed to working with the advice sector to help their most vulnerable customers”.

In the recent heavy snow - extra staff were needed to cope with additional problems - staff were put up in local hotels and ensured all 4x4 vehicles were in operation so that there was no loss in service standards.

Pesticides in Friar Wadden

The meeting heard a report about how the incident of pesticides in the reservoir occurred and was dealt with - it was reassuring to hear how prompt and thorough WW were - I hope other water companies respond similarly - it occured in 2009 due to a farmer mishandling pesticides - 3 incidents occured but no risks to people due to prompt actions. It was 20 days before supplies were restored with daily monitoring, soil sampling and EA meetings. WW worked with the farmer to improve the situation so that it cannot occur in the future.

Charges Briefing

During 2009 17,000 customers switched to meters. The hugely successful Assist tariff is being taken up on the 1st April by Bristol, Welsh, Southern Water and United Utilities. Customers on the Assist tariff pay on average 40% more than they were before being moved to the Assist tariff. Funding of £400,000 will continue next year by WW for CABs. All waste charges including trade effluent remain the same except; WaterSure that will reduce by £3 and the Assist tariff will increase roughly by 2% to reflect increases in benefits. Bristol Water will implement the Assist tariff from 1st April 2010.

Does Wessex Water offer free lead pipe replacement?

One question raised was regarding lead piping. Basically WW will replace the lead pipe from the external stop tab to the water main.

Climate change issues?

Amazingly water companies can't consider climate change unless they look a particular report which wasn't published in time!

Private sewers

I have long argued these need to be transferred to water companies - see for example here - well in WW area roughly 28,000 private sewers and drains and 17,000 will be transferred if this goes ahead - similar for other water companies - yet DEfra are still messing about on this - nothing is moving although they still claim they will have it ready by 2015 at the latest. It will also mean some 150 private contactors will be effected - WW will need to talk to them about how best to proceed as they will not have resources to manage the increase.

Water efficiency

Wessex Water will be launching on 1st April a new water efficiency campaign that will include packs for those who phone in - these packs will contain items like a bag for the loo cistern and shower head restricter-thingyme and more. It has been done with Eon as part of their obligations to cut energy use - how about Severn Trent doing something similar? An issue I hope to raise at the next Water Forum to which we have invited Severn Trent.

1 comment:

Philip Booth said...

Great to see this: