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Interview: Jean Spencer, Anglian Water director, on drought resilience

In this WWT profile interview Jean Spencer, Director of Strategic Growth and Resilience at Anglian Water, talks about the challenge of building drought resilience in the East of England and across the country.

CV: Jean Spencer

- Jean Spencer was appointed as Strategic Growth and Resilience Director in April 2017, having previously held the role of Regulation Director since May 2004. A qualified chartered accountant, she has worked in the water industry since joining Yorkshire Water in 1989, where she was head of regulation.

-A Council Member for Water UK, Spencer has focused on resilience issues in recent times and was part of Ofwat’s Resilience Task and Finish Group, before going on to chair the steering group for Water UK’s Water Resources Long Term Planning Framework.

- Anglian Water is building drought resilience in the current 2015-20 period by cutting leakage (achieving a record low of 183 ML/day in 2015/6) and by demand management (where it aims to cut consumption to 80 litres per person per day). It continues to seek innovative solutions and partners to achieve these goals through its Innovation Shop Window initiative in Newmarket, where 98 partners are working on 62 different trials and projects

- Anglian is taking a multi-stakeholder approach to long-term resource planning through Water Resources East, a collaborative body which includes neighbouring water companies, agricultural interests, large water users and abstractors, energy generators, regulators, internal drainage boards, rivers trusts and others. The priorities and options discussed by WRE will inform its water resources management plan expected to be published later this year.

-Interview by James Brockett

It’s impossible to consider a challenge as large as drought resilience within the boundaries of an individual water company: many of the problems and solutions apply to whole regions of the UK, and with multiple stakeholders and sectors impacted, there is a clear need for national leadership on the issue.

One of the industry figures who is lending a voice to that national conversation is Jean Spencer, Director of Strategic Growth and Resilience at Anglian Water. Appointed to her new role in April after more than a decade at the utility as Regulation Director, her new job title displays the priority that Anglian is placing on resilience issues. At a national level, Spencer sat on Ofwat’s Resilience Task and Finish Group which came up with the widely held definition of resilience for the water industry; she then went on to chair the steering group for Water UK’s Water Resources Long Term Planning Framework. Published in September, this report described the kind of approach that would be needed to build national drought resilience over the next 50 years.

Explaining her involvement, Spencer tells WWT: “Back in autumn 2015, with the new resilience duties coming in, we were really looking at what resilience means, as a company and as a sector. The minister at the time, Rory Stewart, asked water companies what was on our minds and what our main worries were. Our chief executive [Peter Simpson] was quite clear that our key concern was drought – imagine, Anglian Water without water! So as a result of that, work was set up to look at the water resource priorities for England and Wales over the next 25 and 50 years, and I volunteered to lead that under the auspices of Water UK.”

Involving all of the water companies and regulators, the work resulted in last September’s report which made a number of recommendations to tackle the ‘significant and growing risk of severe drought’. These recommendations included introducing consistent national minimum levels of resilience, a national resource plan to-ordinate the current catchment-based ones, and a ‘twin track’ approach of demand management measures together with supply enhancement and transfers.

The report has already influenced policy: for example, the Environment Agency has asked water companies to work to a base standard of a 1-in-200 year drought when preparing water resource management plans, where previously there was significant variation. It has also concentrated minds on the importance of demand management measures, while optioneering continues on projects such as new reservoirs and pipelines to facilitate water transfers.

“The first and foremost option is demand management, it’s reducing consumption by working with customers,” says Spencer. “Where there is still going to be a supply-demand deficit, then the next thing you look at is transfers. The costs of those are now being modelled, and potentially you need storage to go with those transfers. The issue to be aware of with transfers, though, is to ask how reliable they would be in a drought - if you are in a drought, the probability is that your neighbouring company is affected too. That’s what the report highlighted, and we are now in the muck and bullets of doing the modelling that will inform our water resource management plan.”

Since privatisation more than 25 years ago, Anglian Water has 30% more people living in its region, but it still puts the same amount of water into supply, Spencer points out. This shows what can be achieved by cutting leakage and implementing demand management; there is no reason why the company should not be able to cope with future growth by continuing these efforts, but the need to reduce abstraction and keep more water in the environment – another regulatory and customer priority – is the additional driver which may make transfers and storage necessary, she says.

With the east of England being one of the country’s fastest growing regions in terms of population, Spencer is particularly keen to work with developers to minimise water consumption on new builds as part of the company’s demand management efforts. This could include the company contributing towards the cost of effluent recycling systems and dual pipes in housing developments. Other Anglian demand management initiatives include awareness campaigns on the length of time spent brushing teeth (in partnership with GlaxosmithKline), messages on limiting the length of time spent in the shower, educational work with schools and efforts to help customers use data from smart meters. Spencer says she believes that customers respond better to sustainability messages calling on them ‘do the right thing’ with saving water, as opposed to financial messaging around cutting bills.

Spencer is at the forefront of Anglian’s multi-stakeholder approach to water management through her work on the leadership group of Water Resources East, the independent body set up by Anglian to bring together all the interest groups concerned with water resources in the region. Set up two years ago, this collaboration includes neighbouring water companies, agricultural interests, large water users and abstractors, energy generators, regulators, internal drainage boards, rivers trusts and others.

“When you look at the challenges in the east of England, like population growth, climate change, sustainability reductions, extreme weather events, these don’t just affect water companies, they affect everybody with an interest in water,” says Spencer. “You have to think about all of those views together. We might talk about transfers of water, but first and foremost, water is local, because it’s expensive to move about. The question is how we make the most of the resources in the region and recognise that everybody, all of those users, have a stake.”

A series of workshops where WRE members have been airing their views and priorities will culminate in an agreed set of options that will be modelled and inform the water resource management plan. This opens the door for some projects that emerge to be jointly funded, although there are a number of challenges to this, says Spencer.

“I think there is the potential for shared projects between sectors, certainly, and there’s potential for transfers, which would have a shared cost,” she says. “There is a lot of detail to then work through, because if they are shared assets, the question is how that is reflected by Ofwat in regulated price reviews. But when you consider what Ofwat is doing on direct procurement, this is the direction it looks to be heading in. We are doing a lot of work to understand how you make direct procurement work in practice, and the devil will be in the detail.”

Other innovative resource solutions being considered include aquifer storage and recharge, and a project with the Black Sluice Internal Drainage Board in Lincolnshire which might see drained water being stored on a large scale for future use rather than being pumped out to sea.

The solutions that end up being chosen for the East of England will be those that, when modelled against the wide variety of potential future scenarios (e.g. climate, population, demand and drought), provide net benefits in the majority of scenarios. The approach also needs to be able to adapt when things change in future years, concludes Spencer.

“The approach we want is adaptive planning, that meets that range of futures, so it is a ‘no regrets’ approach. Demand management, for example, makes sense whatever the future looks like, and the same is true of the ability to make some water transfers. So it’s really following that robust approach and being adaptive, because the bottom line is we don’t know what the future looks like.”

-Jean Spencer will be one of the speakers at WWT’s Sustainable Water conference on September 20th in Birmingham. Details: events.wwtonline.co.uk/sustainable

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