When leakage is reported, it is often accompanied by dramatic shots of water bursting out of a main and flooding a street. But such instances actually represent a minority of water leaks: the majority are largely invisible. In fact, it is estimated that 30-50% of leaks are very small, background leaks, which are difficult to detect.
Technically when we talk about leakage, we are measuring the water that companies cannot account for: water that has entered their system but has not been delivered to homes, businesses or used in their operations.
Read a more in-depth description of leakage here.
Why is around a fifth of water still lost to leakage?
Leakage in England and Wales is at its lowest ever level and it is still falling. It is lower than in many European countries and a lot lower than in Scotland or Northern Ireland (For a more in-depth look at the data, read Ofwat’s longer leakage article). But we know that companies need to go further to preserve water and that the public gets really frustrated about leakage, especially in the context of climate change and when measures such as hosepipe bans are put in place.
What is Ofwat doing to make sure the water industry lowers leakage levels?
We have set a challenge to water companies to cut leakage between 2020-25 by enough to serve 6 major cities: Cardiff, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol, Sheffield, and Liverpool. Longer term, companies have committed to reducing leakage by 50% from 2017-18 levels by 2050.
Ofwat takes robust action when we find that water companies have not met leakage commitments. For failures in leakage Ofwat has imposed fines and penalties totalling more than £300m. We will not hesitate to hold water companies to account again when leakage commitments have not been met. In a climate where water resources are becoming scarcer, there is an increasing urgency about tackling the issue of leakage.
Is it possible to have no leaks from water pipes at all?
It is very difficult to have no leaks at all but it is vital that companies bring down leakage by predicting, finding, and repairing leaks.
The Ofwat Innovation Fund is funding transformative initiatives that look at new ways of identifying and tackling leakage. For instance, one project is the National Leakage Research and Test Centre. Led by Northumbrian Water and involving 13 other water companies, this project will allow innovators to test their designs for leakage solutions on 5km of pipes that make up a realistic water network. This will speed up innovation in leakage solutions across the water industry.
Want to learn more about leakage in the water industry? Click here for Ofwat’s main leakage information page and here to read a deep dive article into leakage in the water industry.
 Figures based on latest available data: for more information see footnotes 1 and 2 on this page.