Tough Decisions: Why Water Resources Management Really Matters

With many water companies forecasting future supply deficits in England and Wales, customers are understandably confused: how can a country so famously wet be so worried about running out of water? Of course, we all know that supplying water is far more complex than the average customer will ever understand, but right now this is further exacerbated by some major challenges muddying the decision-making process.

The UK water industry faces several profound uncertainties, not the least of which is the impact of climate change. This is already altering our water patterns and could make future hydrological events, such as droughts, more extreme than ever. What’s more, water suppliers must make manifold allowances for the ongoing demographic changes that are constantly altering the demands made by consumers on water companies. With this comes the recognition that our hydrological history is no longer a dependable guide to future water resource management: what helped us make good choices in the past might not help us make the right choices for our future.

This means that astute decision-making is much more difficult and even more important than ever. The stakes have never been higher for the 32 privately-owned companies that provide water, sanitation and drainage services to over 50 million households and businesses in England and Wales. Get your water resource management planning right and maybe a few people ‘in-the-know’ will congratulate you: but if you get your planning wrong, then everyone will have something to say about it.

This is why water resource management planning is so rigorously scrutinized by government regulators, and why water companies are so anxious to justify key decisions at every level. The trick is to balance short, medium and long-term water supply and demand with reduced leakage, improved water quality, high service levels, consumer value and the need to protect the environment. With so many considerations in play, there are inevitably many different, and often conflicting, opinions on what constitutes the ‘right’ thing to do.

In this light, it is crucial to be able to explain your thought processes. Thus, leading water companies are relying on the expertise of decisionLab to explore their options. We have developed a mathematical optimisation tool that is allowing Thames Water to test scenarios and identify the most cost effective way to balance future supply and demand for water resources. The outputs from the decisionLab model are used to inform business planning, providing transparency in decision-making and helping to explain the many trade-offs so that stakeholders can fully understand the impact of different decisions. This is empowering water companies with the confidence to make bolder and better choices that will help to ensure that while their customers continue to complain about the weather…they will never want for water.

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