Southern Water – Integrated Water Cycle Management

Southern Water is developing an innovative approach to meet the challenges it faces including the effects of climate change, population growth and the need to balance protecting the environment with securing vital supplies for the future. This ambitious new method is called Integrated Water Cycle Management (IWCM).

In the past, water companies have focused predominantly on infrastructure solutions to develop new resources, tackle flooding and improve the quality of water they abstract.

However, Southern Water recognises that water companies can’t “build our way out of” the problems they face, and need to consider new methods of addressing them. Over the next five years the company will spend up to £15 million to research and develop new ideas.

Seamless catchment for all water users

The company is taking the lead on working to create a fully integrated water environment by 2040. This will work across all stages of the water cycle, from source through to treatment and disposal of wastewater.

IWCM will create a seamless catchment for all water users, including domestic customers, businesses and farmers, by removing existing legal, regulatory and historic responsibilities and replacing them with a new, integrated framework. Protecting the natural environment and driving activities that enhance the natural capital is at the heart of this approach.

The IWCM approach is in tune with European legislation and based on the same principles of efficiency, sustainability and equity. The aim of the legislation is to ensure that all activities that have an impact on water are sustainable – which is the vision behind IWCM. 

Collaboration over 130 bodies of waters

Collaboration is integral to the approach that Southern Water is taking. The company is already working with local farmers to reduce the amount of nitrates entering its water sources, which improves the quality of water in the environment and reduces treatment costs.

This catchment-based approach was supported by more than 90 per cent of Southern Water’s customers when they were consulted through the company’s Business Plan submission.

Southern Water has chosen two catchments – Rother and Western Streams in Sussex and Medway in Kent – to develop the new approach. These cover more than 3,200km² and 130 bodies of water and were chosen because of their mix of water users, their environmental circumstances and their variety of water cycle challenges.

These pilot areas give Southern Water the opportunity to build on experience from work already ongoing, to enhance relationships, learn vital information about the areas and begin developing the framework for IWCM.

Southern Water will use this experience to start developing a framework for a fully integrated water cycle. In order to remove barriers, a new working environment needs to be created. This involves setting out the responsibilities of each user, agreeing a legal framework to ensure the duties are carried out and deciding on the best way of measuring how effective any measures are. 

Southern Water plans to phase in elements of IWCM over the next 25 years working with customers, stakeholders and government to create a fully integrated water environment.

For more information see the Southern Water website.

For more information on catchment management principles and examples of these in practice, see the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) website.