Mark Taylor, advanced services operations manager at Water Plus, the UK’s largest water retailer, shares his advice on how farmers can be prepared even during cold weather which can impact water pipes.
The start of December saw one of the first bouts of cold weather to strike the UK this winter, with night-time temperatures falling to well below freezing across rural areas.
These conditions bring a multitude of challenges to pastoral farmers, which include negotiating the problems of frozen pipes and the risk posed by a quick thaw, which can lead to pipes bursting and a disruption to supply.
Closely managing and maintaining a farm’s water infrastructure can, understandably, sink down the list of priorities throughout the year, particularly over winter when the primary concern is ensuring the welfare of livestock and using the short daylight hours for other vital work.
As a result, planning for a water outage during the colder months is something many don’t do, partly because they are unaware of their responsibilities for maintaining the pipe network within the boundaries of their farmland, from the point of the water meter.
This isn’t just the case for the farming community. Our research shows that less than a fifth of UK businesses have a plan to mitigate the risk of losing their water supply, whether it’s days, hours or minutes, despite admitting that it would impact their productivity and sales.
It’s worth lagging any exposed pipes in out buildings and any exposed pipework, to prevent water leaks.
Having a plan in place for your operation and for all workers on a farm is useful to ensure any outage to supply is as short as possible and to reduce the risk of a large bill resulting from a leaking or burst pipe.
A good first step is to have a strong understanding of the layout of the pipework on site and ensure a map is available for all employees, which includes the locations of all the stop taps.
These should be installed to isolate the water supply to disused areas of the farm during the winter months and should be checked regularly for loose fittings.
Daily usage should also be monitored closely - a spike in consumption or a drop in pressure might suggest a leaking pipe, which could be underground and not visible.
Farms with livestock are classified as ‘Category 4 Sensitive Customers’ and would be recognised as vulnerable during a wholesaler network supply interruption.
But sensitive sites, such as hospitals, will be given priority for repairs or emergency water deliveries, should supply disruptions occur.
This means that without alternative water sources on-site and without a plan in place for an interruption, then farmers may have to pay for a water delivery.
Diversifying supply, according to the sources available on-site, decreases the risk of an interruption causing too much damage.
Farms could also consider installing additional private water supplies such as boreholes, or even rainwater harvesting for jobs that do not require mains-quality drinkable water, such as washing down hardstanding areas.
They should also ensure they’re aware of – and following – the rules on water use from Defra, the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) and the Environment Agency.
Mitigating a supply interruption
Even with the right preparation, it’s still vital to know the steps to be taken should a supply interruption occur.
Are neighbouring farms, homes or sites affected by the water supply loss? If so, contact the wholesaler for advice on any interruptions or bursts on their network and timescales for repairs.
If the supply issue is on the farm site, then it could be caused by a leak, which will need a repair arranging by farmers, as quickly as possible, to reduce water loss and avoidable increases in the farm’s water bills.
Winter can be a difficult time for farmers, particularly in isolated, rural areas. Water is the lifeblood of many day-to-day agricultural operations, so it’s vital that farmers make the right preparations to ensure their systems are robust and reliable at all times.
For more advice and information go to: www.water-plus.co.uk/farmers