Utility Week

Utility Week 25th October

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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Interview 'W hen I joined the Environment Agency, I was told there were two rules of thumb. First, the flood season only lasts from October to May. The second was that after the end of May, groundwater recharge never happens. Well, maybe we need some new thumbs." So says Dr Paul Leinster, chemist, environmental engineer and long- standing chief executive of the Environment Agency (EA). His rueful comment sums up the 15 years he has spent at the agency, a period when environmental challenges have grown and changed beyond all expectations. Speaking to Utility Week at the two-day Congress in London's Hotel Russell, Leinster is remarkably relaxed and friendly for a man carrying such responsibility. Perhaps that's because he's confident that water companies are performing, Ofwat is handling the price review in the right way, and much-needed abstraction reform is firmly on the agenda. First up is climate change. As Leinster points out, the rules of the game have changed, with extreme and unpredictable weather events now the norm. He is one of several speakers at the Congress to recall the disaster narrowly averted last year, when London was days away from running dry the week before the Olympics. Reflecting on the infamous weather conditions of 2012, Leinster notes that one in four days were officially in drought and one in five days saw floods. Hosepipe bans affected more than 20 million people. Leinster recalls receiving a letter from the secretary of state in March, inviting him to chair the national drought group. Shortly after that it started raining – and it did not let up. In 2012 more than 8,000 properties were flooded and more than 6,000 flood warnings were issued. This is a sign of things to come, not just a freak occurrence, Leinster points out. March of this year was the second coldest on record, but in July the Met Office was forced to issue hot weather alerts. Also, resilience of water resources and supply systems to droughts and climate change varies across the country. In the South and South East, where there is more reliance on groundwater and pumped storage, water resources respond slowly to both rainfall and drought. In the North West, the hard rock catchments respond quickly to rainfall and equally to lack of rain. The uncertain age of extreme weather is a real challenge for the EA. Leinster cites the floods of 2007 when armed forces were called in as Walham substation teetered on the brink of flooding. If the water had broken through, about 500,000 properties and businesses in Gloucestershire would have been without electricity. "Cost-effective resilience is clearly prudence insurance but getting the balance right between risk, probabilities and consequences is a major challenge," says Leinster. "Both population growth and climate change are going to be pressures." UTILITY WEEK | 25th - 31st October 2013 | 9

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