Climate change adaptation

It is predicted that climate change will result in the North West experiencing higher daily temperatures all year, and a shift in rainfall patterns with higher rainfall in winter but more frequent and/or severe drought events predicted in summer.

We have first-hand experience of the impacts of extreme weather events on our operations and customers – during 2018 we experienced two weather extremes, with a deep freeze followed by rapid thaw in the early part of the year, and then extremely hot, dry weather coupled with significantly increased demand for water over the summer. There is a large degree of uncertainty in the longer term because of outcomes from different emissions scenarios and the complexity of climate modelling but is agreed that experiences like this will become more common and need to be planned for.

The potential effect of climate change on our business future is discussed in two adaptation reports in 2011 and 2015. The first adaptation report (PDF 3.48 MB opens in new window) explains to government how we are preparing for a changing climate and sets out how we intend to manage material risks associated with climate change and outlines our partnership-based approach. Our second adaptation report (PDF 2.08 MB opens in new window), published in 2015, builds on this and reports progress on our actions.

As a first step to incorporate longer-term climate change impacts more explicitly in our corporate risk framework in Spring 2020 we screened all of our corporate risks for their vulnerability to climate change. This was a broadly qualitative analysis though it used projected changes for North West England at a global mean warming of 2°C and 4°C above pre-industrial levels from the UKCP18 Derived Projections of Future Climate over the UK, Met office. The following 7 risks were identified. While the most significant are all physical risks, transitional risks are also managed through our risk management framework.

  • Water sufficiency event
  • Water network failure
  • Failure to treat wastewater (exceedance of permits)
  • Failure of above ground water and wastewater assets (flooding)
  • Failure of wastewater assets (serious pollution)
  • Failure of the wastewater network (sewer flooding)
  • Failure to treat sludge

The next step which has recently begin is consider the corporate strategy, risks and opportunities under three RCP scenarios (2.5, 4.5 and 8.5) at 2050 and 2100. This is part of some companywide multifactor scenario analysis and strategic planning but the 3 future scenarios a differentiated by the 3 representative concentration pathways. This activity further raises the profile of climate change adaptation and allows the board enhanced insight into climate risks from within existing risk management processes. It will highlight where climate risks are not well understood or where existing controls are deemed inadequate to manage the risk in the long-term to allow corrective action to be taken.

Water resources

We’re committed to delivering reliable and resilient water supplies to three million households and 200,000 businesses in the North West, at the lowest possible cost. Our 25-year Water Resource Management Plan defines our strategy to achieve a long-term, best-value and sustainable plan for water supplies in the North West. Alongside this we have our drought plan which sets out the actions that we would take in a hot, dry periods which require action in relation to both supply and demand. 

Supply is managed by ensuring we continue to have resilient water resources and infrastructure capable of moving water efficiently around the region. We have an integrated supply zone covering the majority of our region operated using our Systems Thinking approach. This helps us to manage water supply and demand and, where there is any potential shortfall, we bring more supplies online to meet demand. Generally this system is proficient, but there are areas that require further improvements to deal with future challenges. Our West East Link Main pipeline runs between Manchester and Liverpool, allowing transfer of water across our region, and the extreme dry weather in 2018 gave us cause to increase the capacity of this pipeline, as well as bringing additional groundwater sources online, both of which increased our resilience.

Demand is managed by encouraging and supporting customers to use water efficiently. We have increased our efforts in this area and run a number of high profile campaigns when demand was much higher than normal. We encourage customers to save water through education initiatives to raise awareness, sharing water saving tips on our website and through social media, and providing free water-saving devices. We work with external partners to expand our messaging further afield, and have increased the number of water meters installed, with 44 per cent of households in our region now fitted with meters.


Coping with periods of intense heavy rainfall requires action to cope with excess surface water drainage while minimising the risk of sewer flooding, pollution and spills.

Traditional interventions, such as storage tanks and enlarging sewers, are costly and subject to constraints for space, particularly in urban areas with little permeable ground. Innovation is needed to find new solutions, which is why we have increased our focus on the use of sustainable drainage solutions in recent years, working with partners to transform hard-grey areas into living planted places.

Our operations produce sludge’s, excavated materials and general office waste, which we are committed to managing in a sustainable way. Less than five per cent of our waste goes to landfill, we use recycled products where practical, and are working to reduce the use of plastics. We look for ways to reduce our use of raw materials to minimise our environmental impact and increase efficiency.