How resilient is the UK Water sector to a threat such as COVID-19 and what lessons can we learn for enhanced future resilience?

Management & Regulation, Natural Environment, Processed Water

How resilient is the UK Water sector to a threat such as COVID-19 and what lessons can we learn for enhanced future resilience?

New CIWEM-led research has been published which uses a resilience framework to look at how the water sector coped with the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, CIWEM, together with researchers from University College Dublin, University of the West of England and University of Exeter, designed a questionnaire to capture the challenges the sector had faced in the early stages of the pandemic including the first nationwide lockdown and understand its impacts and consequences. They surveyed an extensive range of employees from across the water industry, its supply chain, consultancies, regulators and wider stakeholder organisations.

The research identified a range of findings which offer the potential to inform thinking around how resilience in the sector – already a major priority – may be further enhanced in the future. These findings included:

The sector was well-prepared to adapt and respond to a major event. Preparations to build resilience to shocks such as extreme weather events and wider disruptions such as Brexit aided in the ability to respond to the pandemic. 80% of respondents continued in their normal role despite a similar shift from office to home-based working.

There were implications for the water industry which require regulatory consideration. Utilities were able to meet an increased potable water demand, changes in supply distribution, deal with a changing wastewater load arising from rapid closure of the hospitality sector, and prevent widespread sewer blockages from increased use of non-flushable items. Yet, this was not without potential financial implication, with implications for AMP7 delivery targets and outcome delivery incentives (ODIs) identified.

Workplace impacts are significant and likely to endure. The change in working practice, with the majority of employees in the sector working from home, was considered likely to endure for many. There is considerable longer-term adjustment required within the sector to support employees in working effectively from home, through more robust IT systems, enhanced health and wellbeing support, to optimising approaches to remote engagement and collaboration.

There is a demand for wider use of remote technology, alongside nature-based, self-managing systems, to contribute to a green recovery. Changes in the ability to access sites led to increased demand for remote monitoring which could be effectively deployed more widely in future. Likewise the ability of nature-based systems to self-manage offers potential resilience enhancements on a range of fronts and their wider application should form part of a green recovery.

Research paper

The full paper has been published in Water and Environment Journal.

Free webinar

CIWEM will be hosting a free webinar on 10th December 2020 to discuss these findings alongside trends identified in continuing research. You can book onto this webinar here.

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