Keeping up with sudden changes in water usage patterns as people stay at home

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August 26, 2020

In the first part of our Covid Impact series, Rebecca Willey, Technical Solutions Engineer at Innovyze explores the unprecedented challenges faced by water companies today.

Without running water for everyone, fighting the coronavirus is impossible. It's more important than ever that our water utilities can continue to deliver. But with government messaging around washing hands for longer and more frequently, and businesses and schools closed, how will our water supply be impacted? And will the perception of water companies and the water they supply, change for customers?

In the first week of the majority of the nation working from home, and schools and businesses partly or wholly closed, there were changes to how, when and where we use water. In normal circumstances a domestic household would have a morning peak in consumption, around breakfast time; and an evening peak, when they return home and start making dinner, putting on laundry and so on. In the current circumstances, with most people at home all day, we would expect to see the morning peak later as there is little commuting, and a domestic lunchtime peak in consumption.

As well as a time shift, there is an increase in consumption in domestic areas and a reduction in business and shopping districts. 

During ‘normal’ circumstances, customers generally experience adequate pressure, taste and odour, but now, will water potentially travelling around the network differently when large users were not using water and business parks continue to use less, affect the customers experience? 

The issues we're facing

There were many unknowns at the start of this pandemic as it was such an unprecedented sudden change to the way people lead their lives, including consumption of water. The people who work to supply our water continue to watch carefully, and alert to some of the following issues.

  • How will changes to consumption volumes and times affect water quality in reservoirs, which are emptying more slowly in some areas, and age of water in the network?
  • Will sedimentation occur on large business parks, and how will this impact customers and water companies when ‘normal’ business resumes?
  • At the beginning of April, the new regulatory regime of AMP7 commenced in England and Wales, with all water companies required to reduce customer complaints greatly (see the regulatory body Ofwat's metrics document) – but will more people being at home increase or decrease this possibility?
  • Companies paused planned works, including network flushing so their staff can maintain social distancing, so did this mean that the network had fewer changes and disruption, and is thus calmer, resulting in fewer customer complaints, especially regarding taste and odour?

Leaks and bursts

The need for reliable supplies to homes has never been greater, with the need for people to stay home with limited options if the supply fails. Platforms such as IWLive Pro have helped to give early warning of incidents, along with customers phoning to complain of a problem. Now people are at home, companies may experience more customer contacts if there are problems, with the potential reputational damage. On the other hand, this could make them aware of the problem sooner, and be able to fix it sooner. And, as washing hands is crucial, if loss of supply occurred could customers and businesses be given hand sanitizer?

Vulnerable customers

Databases of vulnerable customers are held by utilities to identify who require additional notification and water delivered to them, including dialysis patients. During these uncertain times the definition of vulnerable is different. How will people be identified who are self-quarantining and ill which is changing daily?

Challenging times

At the moment some of these questions remain unanswered as these circumstances have never been experienced before. Looking at the data from the previous months will show the impact of this crisis on water supply.

We're keen to hear from customers about their experiences, whether you've solved the problems that have come up, or have run into problems that need new solutions. Do get in touch .  

Read part 2 of our Covid Impact series, where Duncan Allen, Clean Water Hydraulic Modelling Team Leader at Scottish Water discusses how water usage patterns are changing, the steps they are taking to identify early warnings to ensure network resilience and some key findings for other modellers to consider.

Tags: Water Distribution, IWLive Pro