Agenda item

South East Water and Thames Water in attendance

The CEO and the Head of Communications, South East Water and the Head of Waste Networks for South London and the Sustainability Director, Thames Water will be in attendance to answer questions on their services.


The Chairman welcomed David Hinton, Chief Executive and Rob Cumbie, Head of Communications, from South East Water, Richard Aylard, Sustainability Director and Carl Leadbetter, Head of Waste Network from Thames Water to the meeting both companies gave presentations on their remits.


The Committee first heard from South East Water, who advised fresh, clean drinking water was supplied to 2.3 million customers and on average 540 million litres of water was treated and pumped to customers each day. He highlighted the new water demand challenges, due to changes in how customers were using drinking water during peak demand. Initially in 2020 it was linked to Covid, but with more customers working from home the pattern had continued. Water demand during the hottest 7-day period for each year since 2016 had increased on average by 7%. Combined with the earlier impacts of climate change, this had put pressure on the ability to meet demand for water during peak times.


Members were advised that the biggest sources of water to the district were from Cramptons Road, and from Pembury. The water was supplied from a number of groundwater sources, such as boreholes, wells and springs. The presentation covered leakages and the environmental challenges faced in 2022/23. Most leaks were caused by the very dry summer followed by wet and quickly freezing weather. He advised that lessons had been learnt and emergency planning was being adjusted to prepare for higher numbers of people affected. Network Capacity, Infrastructure and planning for the future were also brought to Members attention.


Members asked questions regarding working together in response to emergency situations, such as providing bottled water. The Head of Communications advised that there was a new dedicated team for these situations. It was put forward by the Chairman that the Sevenoaks depot could be used for water pallets and, with the help of the Council’s officers, to share water.  Sevenoaks District Council had their own list of vulnerable people, and sharing the different lists would ensure that no one was missed. Members were advised that there were sharing models and there was a template which could be used.


Members posed further questions regarding agriculture and farmers. Additional work was being undertaken to ensure that crops and livestock were protected. It was important that people managing these were known to the water provider, so that water security could be provided in advance through water tankers, to ensure that they would not be affected by sudden dry periods. It was important to protect them without putting pressure on public water supplies.


Further questions were asked around new water sources and reservoirs, and whether it was economical to expand the size. Members were advised that this was based on demand and the likely future supply, taking into consideration climate change which could reduce the amount of water which could be taken from the environment. From this it would be assessed if there was a gap in water supply, and if one was likely, it would be analysed for the best value solution. This supply system could vary. Currently the main solutions employed were demand reduction and leakage reduction, but there were also reservoirs due to come into use in the mid-2030s, which would take 18 months to fill. Plans involved taking less water from the environment. Abstractions had to be demonstrated to show they were sustainable and would not impact on the environment - if they started to have an impact then they would be revised. This was done through working with the Environment Agency and other partners. There were a number of forecasts to ensure there was enough water for everyone, and factors which could affect this were built in, such as housing numbers and climate change.


The level of risk across the whole district was relatively similar. Commuter towns in general faced higher demand and were closer to a deficit than they were pre-Covid. To address this, water was being shared across sectors - areas where there had been no increase or reductions in demand had been connected to the areas of increase demand. Further infrastructure investment would assist in moving water around more effectively.


Further questions were posed on demand reduction and holistic solutions within planning. There was no one way to work with demand reduction. 90% of South East Water was on a meter usage, and customers were charged for the volume of use. Since this was introduced, normal daily use had dropped around 8%, though not for peak demand, such as in hot weather. Smart metering would help find internal leaks and help introduce discretional charges for households with above normal usage. Grey water use was promoted, such as using water butts. Planning was crucial in terms of making homes of the future as water efficient as possible. The company tried to give advice where possible and supported any efficiencies through the planning process.


In regards to a question regarding water outages, Members were advised that a number of the impacted metrics, such as leakage, customer satisfaction, and interruptions, all linked to the ongoing weather issues. It was expected that customer satisfaction would drop. This would be addressed through infrastructure, to both provide more water, and store and more it more effectively. Efficient water storage would also save time in emergency situations. Recent events and demand drained the treated water storage tanks faster than they could be filled. Therefore it was important that the size of the storage available and the interconnection between areas were focused on.


The Chairman welcomed Richard Aylard Sustainability Director and Carl Leadbetter the Head of Waste Network from Thames Water to the meeting. She thanked them for their efficient work in addressing a recent issue in Westerham, and for incorporating feedback from residents into their plan for this. They gave a presentation which covered treatment works, storm overflows, impacts on river quality, water resources, drainage and wastewater management plan and reporting problems. He started with setting out their area of coverage within the Sevenoaks District and the impact of Covid water use and waste water demands changing. The freeze thaw which caught everyone off guard, and emergency planning had resulted in lessons learned and he was grateful to hear of collaborative working with the Council for bottled water. Regular operational meetings with flood officers were helpful with focusing attention on local needs was working well.


The area covered by Thames was mostly the Northern area and there was no waste treatment plant in the area, known as catchments. The nearest waste treatment works was Long Reach near Dartford. There was only one storm water overflow in wildernesses sewage pumping station, which was very small and although there was no requirement for monitoring there was one to monitor if any discharge happened.


Members were advised of the process for how a typical sewage treatment works and sewage works cannot be stopped. He advised that it was regrettable when overflow had to go into the rivers as although the waste had been screened it had not been treated at this point and work was being undertaken to reduce storm discharges where the networks were not big enough.


He advised that monitoring was taking place and there was a live interactive map which provided details of what was happening at any discharge points. Thames Water were also looking at ways to reduce storm discharges and set out the options available. He advised that there were pros and cons to each option and the local factors were an important consideration.


Members were advised of water resources in the district and in particular focus on the cycle of water, the amount of water abstracted about 40 years ago from chalk streams against current times. He highlighted that it had reduced over the years and it remained a focus to reduce abstraction from chalk stream sources.


The Head of Waste Networks advised that the Drainage and Wastewater Management Plan was a long-term strategic plan which set out how wastewater systems, drainage networks etc would be maintained and improved from 2025 onwards. There was a lot of collaborative work among partners to help with the management of the area.


Members took the opportunity to ask questions from Thames Water.


In response to questions Members were advised that although not formal consultees on planning applications, but they do try to keep in touch with the Council Planners where new applications may have an adverse impact on water in the area. There were plans to reduce the storm discharge into rivers and due to the heavy water conditions it was higher than liked, however there were targets in place to reduce this and areas with the greatest sensitivity were being prioritised, such as chalk streams and bathing water. It was reiterated that there were no discharges into rivers in the district. There was a very big plan coming for wastewater infrastructure and part of it was dependent on water supply chains and ensuring sufficient experts were there to be able to do the design work.


Members were advised that a significant number of monitoring being undertaken and they were important to control the network and with some atomisation flows could be redirected or held back which helps with treatment works under storm conditions.


Further questions from Members focused on areas of drainage and sewage issues which were coming up through the man holes, advance warning of works on the roads and highways and how this information could be provided to the public in advance. Members were advised that this was an issue as the system in Sevenoaks was not a combined system and the sewers in the road should only have foul water in them and for them to be overflowing in storm conditions meant that there was infiltration to the system, which would overload the treatments works. The specific area would need to be looked into for the surface water and what level was getting into the system further in the network. Temporary monitoring could be installed to see and what was happening.  In terms looking at particular area by monitoring flows and where they come from would help identify where the problems were coming from. He gave an example of a particular road flooding and that flow was infiltrating the system or multiple properties were linked to the foul water system in terms of drainage and where this was identified work was carried out with home owners to ensure that water was put in the right place. There was no clear answer as it could be multiple options. It was important to identify where the water was getting into the system.


In regards to planned works Members were advised that although it may seem that nothing was happening when works were being undertaken, when clean water pipes were installed they needed to be flushed through and the roadworks would not be removed until they were content that all fresh water was clean.  He advised that sometimes leaks get put into a programme of work and then they can be assessed, following that it can act as a precursor for something bigger and that could be when the emergency works take place.


In regards to performance indicators, Members were informed that there was a serious turnaround plan in regards to drinking water quality. There were a number of new monitors which were live and were recording data.


The Committee thanked South East Water and Thames Water for their attendance.


At 8.50pm for the comfort of Members and Officers the Chairman adjourned the meeting.


At 9pm the meeting reconvened.



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