UK WATER INDUSTRY RESEARCH

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An ambitious leakage programme

An ambitious leakage programme

Published On 28/11/2019

UKWIR has identified a total of 25 new projects in the Leakage Big Question Programme (How do we Achieve Zero Leakage in a Sustainable Way by 2050?) to deliver the quantum leap needed on leakage performance. These projects will aim to quantify leakage more accurately, minimise leaks on new pipes and joints as well as improve ‘find and fix’ times.

Water leaks can be small or big, visible or invisible, benign or potentially dangerous. They can exercise both technical experts and uninformed observers with equal passion.


The escape of treated water from underground pipes has been a major political, technical and reputational issue for all water companies for many years, particularly since 1997 when the industry regulator, Ofwat, began setting and reporting annual leakage targets for all water companies.

Saving more of this wasted water means water companies can take less from rivers and underground aquifers. This is critical as many of these rain-fed sources are struggling. Climate change may be a global issue, but it has local consequences with clear signs it is having an impact on when and where rain is falling, and how much of it certain areas of the UK gets.

Since 1997, leakage has been reduced by 40% but much work remains to be done as 20%of all the drinking water produced is still lost from pipes, not just companies’ pipes, but also from those inside homes and businesses.

Today, customers, regulators and Government expect water companies to reduce leakage much further than they have up until now and achieve those reductions more quickly as well.

In England and Wales, water companies have already responded and pledged to reduce leakage by a further 461 million litres per day, or 16%, in their 2020-2025 business plans. However, Ofwat’s Final Determinations of those companies’ plans, due on 11 December 2019, is expected to push them harder and further still.

Public interest commitment

Leakage is also one of five Public Interest Commitments the entire water sector has signed up to. It will at least triple the rate of sector-wide leakage reduction by the earlier date of 2030. From 2020 onwards UKWIR’s Leakage Big Question Programme will address:

  • understanding how the deterioration of a pipe evolves into leakage
  • making new pipework leak-free with existing techniques.

These future projects are a natural iteration of some projects already happening, including:

  • using smart data to manage leakage
  • understanding how different types of pipe joints deteriorate
  • identifying the causes of repeat bursts on old pipe repairs

An ambitious exercise is also underway, one that is surveying the entire UK and Ireland water industry on the current leakage research that is taking place, and the willingness to share findings. This exercise will, for the first time, provide an ‘innovation heatmap’ for leakage research, and ensure that our research is correctly targeted and drive greater collaboration.

For more information, please view our flyer here.