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Thames Water: Adaptation in a Water Utility

Submitted by Ben Smith 7th November 2011 7:19


Thames Water are keen to find positive and equitable ways of responding to the challenges presented by climate change in South East England. They are strategically reviewing all of the issues that will impact on the business and planning accordingly for the longer-term. This involves engaging with stakeholders and gaining high-level support and is leading to business planning for a more resilient, prepared business.

Key messages and learning outcomes

The projected impacts of climate change in south east England will compound an already difficult situation in an area where water resources are already stressed and the population is increasing. Thames water therefore need to find ways of responding to this challenge whilst ensuring that their responses contribute to their wider aspiration of becoming a truly sustainable business.

    The views and priorities of their customers and stakeholders are of key importance to Thames Water. It is essential that they actively engage and work with other stakeholders to ensure appropriate responses are identified, prioritised and delivered in a timely way.

      "This is not a sprint, but rather a marathon. Things will inevitably change along the route so revisit and test your assumptions and responses regularly."

      Climate Change Strategy Manager, Thames Water

      Adaptation outcomes

      A justified final Business Plan submission that explicitly accommodated prioritised responses to the impacts of climate change on the business.

      Further action/proposed further action: Thames Water’s iterative assessment of the impacts of climate change (which started in 2002) has identified a number of thresholds, sensitivities and incremental impacts that they will continue to plan for. 

      As part of their iterative climate change evaluation, Thames Water are reviewing their preparedness for the impacts of climate change. This will also be core to the development of their Adaptation Reporting Power response. The work will also inform the development of their next Business Plan submission to Ofwat in 2014.

      In addition, they are developing a risk-based assessment that assesses the sensitivity of their catchment area to the impacts of climate change.

      Enabling factors

      Looking more than a few years into the future and integrating climate change into their planning process with buy-in throughout the business.

        Producing their 25-year Strategic Direction Statement, “Taking Care of Water”, which identified the potential climate change impacts on their business and the actions that they believe they need to take to ensure that they mitigate and adapt effectively and responsibly.

          Asking stakeholders whether what they were proposing was the right thing to be doing was felt to be of key value. ‘Taking Care of Water’ was the culmination of their largest-ever public consultation exercise (at that time), which included discussion groups with customers, stakeholder workshops, interviews with MPs and an online consultation, prompting over 2600 individual comments.

            By thinking about what the future may hold, they have been better able to assess, organise and prioritise the issues they need to be planning for. This is part of an ongoing and iterative process which will allow adjustments to be made in the future as better knowledge, information and understanding becomes available.


              There will always be uncertainty about the size, rate of change and timing of climate change impacts. This uncertainty means there is a concern that business, regulators, Government and politicians are reluctant or unable to support investment in adaptation responses.

              There are concerns linked to the timeliness of response (too early) or degree of response (too much) and wasted adaptation investment, which, in a regulated industry, will ultimately impact on customer bills. However, this must be balanced with the need to encourage and ensure adaptation responses are in place in time.