Water Sector Industry Perspectives for Climate Services

by Xavier Maitrerobert2

AquaFed, the International Federation of Private Water Operators, represents private companies that deliver water supply or sanitation services under the direction of public authorities. Its members, local and international companies of all sizes, operate in some 40 countries. The majority of people who get water from private companies – mandated and regulated by governments – receive that service from members of AquaFed. Some supply water and sanitation daily to a few thousand people, others to hundreds of thousands and still others to millions or even tens of millions.

world map
AquaFed membership

AquaFed’s members operate public drinking water and sanitation services entrusted to them through public-private partnership contracts or licenses. They are under the instruction and control of the public authorities. Simply put, the private operators are tools public authorities use to implement water policies. Thus, AquaFed members are instruments for public policies. Their position is not unique. Many local, national and regional governments have sought out private-public partnerships called PPPs for the construction and/or operation of large projects. It is a prevalent practice in, for example, the energy sector for supplying electricity to the population.

AquaFed’s global mission is to connect private water operators, international public institutions and civil society organisations. To achieve this goal, Aquafed has positioned itself as a channel between private water and wastewater providers and international stakeholders and has promoted the exchange of expertise within the two communities. Part of this work, involves explaining the various forms of Private Sector Participation models available to public authorities.

The European Commission of the European Union and the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations have both accredited AquaFed.

Supply side factors impacting municipal water services

  • Infrastructure policies: dams, transfer of water, storage facilities
  • Competition for use: other abstraction permits that might deplete aquifers
  • Pollution of aquifers/sources: man-made industrial or agricultural pollutants
  • Rainfall patterns impact aquifers/groundwater, surface water, temperature, climate change
  • Saline intrusion caused by a rise in sea level and/or the depletion of local aquifers by over abstraction
  • Urban and planning policies: draining of wetlands, faster run-off of rainwater, lower recharge of groundwater
  • Ecological constraints.

The operation of public water services

Private sector participation in the delivery of municipal public water and sanitation services covers less than 10 per cent of the world’s population, if only formal arrangements are considered. However, an informal business sector of significant size has sprung up in developing countries where public water services are not provided or unavailable. For instance, evidence shows that up to 40 per cent of the urban population of Africa receives water from informal Small Scale Water Services Providers.

Public and private water service providers face the same operational, technical, economic and financial constraints no matter where they operate. Bear in mind that only 10 per cent of the “blue water” abstracted3 worldwide is used for public water and sanitation services. The main share goes to agriculture – 70 per cent of the total volume.

Meteorological data – requirements based on time horizons

Water operators/utilities as well as public authorities and regulators need meteorological information and data to fulfil their mission to provide satisfactory water and sanitation services to the population. In the water supply and sanitation sectors the information needed differs and depends on the time horizon.

Over the medium and short term – a year, a season, a week, a day or even in real-time – the perspectives and the corresponding need for meteorological data differs:

  • Year/season: Meteorological data are needed for budgeting processes and, more importantly, for revenue variation analysis. They are also required to predict the level of aquifers, groundwater and surface water and to provide useful input for the management of fresh raw water reservoirs on a seasonal basis.
  • Week/Day: Weather – rain and temperature – have an immediate impact on water demand. Extreme rainfall forecasts are important to plan the potential consequences on urban sewerage networks and assess the risk of local flooding. Frost and defrost forecasts are used for the preparation of the operational ground teams who will have to handle the main breaks in the distribution network that such weather can cause. Such information is essential to anticipate potential problem and to better prepare for them.
  • Real time: Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition4 (SCADA) type systems are now being implemented more and more often by large urban water and sewerage services to manage drainage networks. These systems accurately monitor heavy rainfall by directly accessing weather radar type information from the local meteorological organization/office. SCADA contributes to better flood risk management and pollution control by providing early warning signals, alerting civil society to risks, allowing for better management and optimization of water storage and triggering on-site interventions. Most SCADA systems include hydraulic modelling of drainage networks.

Balancing supply and demand on longer horizons

Long term foresight – an ability to analyze data and predictions in an environment of uncertainty – is required for proper water investment planning given the long life and initial investment costs of such assets.

Over terms longer than 10 years, it is the duty of water operators and authorities to make sure that demand for drinking water in the area they service is met by the supply available from the assets they manage – boreholes, water treatment plants and networks of distribution pipes. This process is known as the supply/demand balance and applies equally for sewerage services. This balance, which most developed countries have achieved, has to be reassessed continuously in an ever-changing environment affected, amongst others, by economic and technical variations on the demand side and ecological and environmental variations on the supply side.

For instance, the volume of water resources available to supply drinking water to the population might be affected by the pollution of the aquifers they tap into. Some pollution may be man-made, for example, from industry or agriculture. These have to be monitored from the moment they are detected. Others may be the result of climate change, for example, saline intrusion due a rise in sea level and/or the depletion of local aquifer by over-abstraction. Models used in the decision-making process of water authorities and regulatory bodies take all of these parameters into account. They help water regulator to make decisions based on scientific predictions of the water that will be available for use under average and extreme conditions, taking into account all possible allocations of water.

Demand side factors impacting municipal water services

  • Per capita consumption
  • Access to water (connection to municipal services)
  • Network efficiency (leakages, state of the assets, etc.) and efficiency of water appliances
  • Soft issues such as education, behaviour, impact of media messages about water scarcity
  • Urban policies: population density, demographic trends, urbanisation, re-use, rainwater harvesting
  • Tariff/price of water, including the sewage services often billed with water
  • Temperature
  • Rainfall patterns, for example, demand for garden water is greater in dry weather

England’s well-documented and regulated water sector offers a clear demonstration of the benefits to be gained from considering and adjusting to factors that affect the supply and demand curves. The authorities have optimized investments and minimized costs by making sure that the two curves run closely along the same line. Investments are planned using the least costly options available on either the supply or demand side.

“Water Resource Plans” and “Supply/Demand balance” are mandatory processes for private water companies in England and Wales. They are required by both the Environment Agency and the Water Services Regulation Authority and have to be updated on a rolling basis, 25 years sliding, in coherence with the comprehensive regulatory “Periodic Review” process for water tariffs every 5 years. The clear and detailed methodologies used to assess both side of the supply and demand balance even adjusts to reflect miscellaneous factors – such as headroom, outage, etc. – as per the frameworks designed by the sector in accord with regulatory bodies.

The methodological frameworks fully captures climate change factors and provides guidance on the assessment process to deal with average and extreme events and the risk of water shortage.


The management and operation of water utilities requires close collaboration with providers of meteorological information at the local, regional and global levels. It is AquaFed’s view that WMO has an important role to play in improving the level of services public water and sanitation utilities provide to populations in the short and long term.


1 Water Sector Industry Perspectives for Climate Services Article drawn from the presentation at WMO Private Sector Forum held on World Meteorological Day 2012 in Geneva

2 Xavier Maitrerobert is an economist and engineer and has been the Senior Water Adviser within the team of water professionals of AquaFed

3 Water abstraction, water extraction, or groundwater abstraction is the process of taking water from any source, either temporarily or permanently.

4 AquaFed members have developed SCADA-type tools, examples include the RAMSES software developed by Suez Environnement which is used to manage the urban drainage network of Bordeaux, France, and a similar tool by Veolia Water - Kruger that provides real time control using weather radar.

Share this page