United Utilities Group Plc., the largest publicly traded water company in the U.K., regulates water for a massive network of 7 million customers. The company promotes itself as a steward of the environment, an indeed it is making strides in many areas. In other areas however, it has yet to meet its own goals.
United Utilities, headquartered in Warrington, is the result of a merger between NORWEB and North West Water. It owns 184 reservoirs that supply water to North West England, including Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Chesire and Merseyside.
The company said it works diligently to “minimise our environmental impact, to enhance wildlife and biodiversity.” It is trying to reduce carbon emissions as it generates its own electricity.
“Wildlife is not only protected, but frequently improved, as a result of our interventions,” United Utilities says on its website. “Our sustainable catchment management programme ensures our catchments and their wildlife are well managed, protecting water supply and restoring land to its natural state.”
United Utilities Bathing Water
United Utilities implemented stricter standards for bathing water in 2015 in response to new regulations. It has invested about 1 billion pounds ($1.34 billion) in the last 25 years toward improving bathing water and plans to invest another 250 million pounds toward that effort by 2020. It also provides real-time information to customers about the quality of rivers and coastal waters, which it says it is working to improve.
United Utilities is also trying to cut back on sewer flooding, in part by investing in new managing and monitoring technologies. During flooding after heavy rains, the company’s sewer network can become overloaded and result in a “distressing” experience for customers and an environmental hazard. So the company is investing more funds into adapting this network to accommodate the surges with increased capacity.
In other efforts to decrease sewer flooding, United Utilities has installed remote monitoring devices in pipes. That allows the company to respond faster to problems in its network. Data collected from those technologies also helps it anticipate and prepare for future problems.
So far, United Utilities has not yet met a few of its own environmental targets, including its goal to rate below a 68.1 on its Sewer flooding index. The company, however is improving. In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, it rated 100.8 on the index. In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, its index rating dropped to 94.4.
In other environmental issues, United Utilities produces a significant amount of sludge from its operations providing water and wastewater services. It says it is “looking at ways to reduce our use of raw materials to reduce our impact on the environment and make us more efficient.”
Also, the company is focusing on controlling leakage by providing several channels for customers to report incidents. It has reported that it has met its leakage target for eight consecutive years. It’s also encouraging customers to conserve water by making small changes to their daily habits, such as turning off the tap while brushing their teeth. It’s water efficiency campaign is called “Watertight," providing pamphlets on water-saving gadgets.
United Utilities says it tries to “balance the needs of our customers with the needs of the environment” by avoiding drawing too much water from natural sources. For example, it is shifting its water withdrawals from Ennerdale Water, a natural lake in West Cumbria that is a sensitive environment, to Thirlmere, which is a less sensitive area. United is investing in a pipeline to take water from Thirlmere to West Cumbria.