Water, water everywhere and not a drop for a plant to drink.

We are told that there has not been enough rain recently. There will be a hosepipe ban in the North West. We face the massacre of the innocent bedding plants, the death of billions of blades of grass.

There were floods last autumn. A couple of wet years in 2008 and 2009. Now the North West is to be subjected to rationing of its water.

The water industry should do better. It should create new reservoirs or find new soruces of water. We need full competition in the water industry. The large regional monopolies do not serve their customers well. They charge too much and supply too little.

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49 Comments

  1. steve
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    I favour tax incentives to homeowners to install rain capture devices. WHy rely on big business to supply our daily essentials?

  2. OurSally
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    We had some building work done on our house, and while the lawn was dug up anyway we had a 6 cubic litre cistern attached to the downpipes. Since then we can water the garden and wash cars as much as we like, with a clean conscience and at no cost. There is an electric pump in the cellar and it supplies a normal tap on the outside of the house. We also have rain barrels (is that the English word?) on the garage.

    People should take this into their own hands. The answer is to get every householder to collect, store and use rainwater. The more the better. Maybe a grant from the local council would help? We get a reduction in our water-rate because we put less in the drains.

  3. Y Rhyfelwr Dewr
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    How long do you think it will be before all the warmists start saying, "You see, we told you our summers are going to get hotter and dryer."

  4. Steves
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    John,

    Do you think it is time for someone in the Conservative party to give an exposition on Austrian Economics? I do think that the referendum on voting change will carry and the Left will thereby gain evermore momentum.Austrian Economics most closely matches the experiences people have in their everyday lives and households.The Conservative party is essentially about freedom and personal choice and I think it will have to demonstrate evermore fully the rational underpinning of this to counteract the new electability of the Lib Dems. I know it is hard to admit that Government can't effect change as much as is claimed but in a new era of transparency,we can't afford to protect special interests or the future is lost to a potential World Government of Social Democratic stagnation.

  5. nonny mouse
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    I'm not sure that competition is the answer (not that I'm against it). It might reduce prices but not make the industry meet the wider needs of the country. As I see it, if we have poor service quality and insufficient investment then this is a symptom of bad regulation.

    Perhaps at some point you could give us your impressions of how regulation of the privatised utilities have changed during the Labour years and how this could be improved. The Conservatives created Ofwat, Ofgas, Ofcom etc. as part of privatisation. These were supposed to be a counter balance to the profit motive of the privatised companies, justified in part because of the monopoly structure of these utilities.. I suspect that under Labour the regulators might have lost their way.

  6. DBC Reed
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    As I've said before: the water supply is a natural,spacial monopoly and should be in public ownership run at cost.This way it would sunsidise the private sector and the private citizen freeing up personal disposable income to spend in the shops.You will never get water-supply competition because nobody is going to build competing water mains then provide you indoors with a choice of taps.This attempt to privatise services that were working tolerably well in public ownership is expensive fiddling about ,trying to reinvent the wheel ,driven by ideology rather than good practice . The same goes for the Conservatives Budgeted ndustrial renaissance (The Five Year No-Plan) which is to be played out using only the private sector keys on the piano. The present breed of privatiser seems to me (Iam very old),exactly the same type of person who told you with absolute certainty in the early 60's that the Communist System was scientifically inevitable.

    • simon
      Posted June 28, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      DBC Reed ,

      I tend to agree with you that many of these privatisations were driven by ideology rather than good practice . Didn't matter whether the public got a good price for the utilities and BP or whether they fell into foreign ownership .

      What a pity the Conservative belief in personal responsibility does not appear to extend to using water and energy responsibly .

      Turning a tap on is just too easy . Like having children .

  7. oldrightie
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    It is inconceivable that the "little" people are urged to set up water storage containers en masse, whilst the movers and shakers allow the main players to rely on a regular replenishment known to be as fickle as climate ever was and ever shall be!

  8. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    You are quite correct; the water companies should do much better. The North West is one of the areas with the highest annual rainfall levels in the UK and yet it seems to be the first to be planning to introduce restrictions. Now we don't even seem to have the benefit of uninterrupted supplies as a compensation for the depressing number of wet days which we normally endure.

  9. Simon
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    So much water is being abstracted that it has had a detrimental effect on our river system and the fish stocks in it as anglers have noticed .

    It is crazy that de-salination plants are being muted . This is supposed to be an age of austerity . In the cases of water and energy the domestic demand could be cut back dramatically without any deterioration in peoples lifestyles , indeed a closer connection to nature and reality might help people appreciate what they have got . Could be that the number of people on our Island i unsustainable too without the crutch of North Sea oil .

    Could someone please explain to me the reason for the big aversion to to trying to live within our means instead of doing everything possible to avoid using resources more sensibly ?

  10. Alan Jutson
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Yes build more reservoirs, but you will get opposition from the NIMBY's.

    Water meters made compulsary would perhaps avoid some overuse, as its pay as you use. Much fairer system than at present where house is rated, no matter how many users. But then the poll tax was also a fairer system, where each person paid for their own share, rather than being based on house (rentable) value.

    Fixing leaks in old pipes would also help to conserve.

    Rainwater capture for garden watering may also help, instead of it flowing into drains or soakaways.

    Not aware as to the cost of desalination plants, but given we are surrounded by water it seems an obvious technology to investigate and develop.

  11. Richard1
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    What this shows is once an industry is state owned it takes decades to recover to a normal level of performance, such is the distortion in the market – unless like coal, shipbuilding, steel, autos etc the dead hand of the state kills the industry comletely.

  12. JohnRS
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    However the current system doesnt reward long term investment in storage or reducing leaks. It takes an external regulator to impose this type of activity on the regional companies.

    I'm not sure a more competitive (non-regional?) system would encourage companies to invest large amounts of capital in very long term projects. Reservoirs are planned to last decades (at least) and dont generate a very good short term rate of return. Some other mechanism is needed to ensure that the suppliers do the right thing for their customers as well as their shareholders.

  13. Stuart Fairney
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Yes indeed.

    In the defence of the water industry, I know how hard it is to get planning consent to build a house, a reservoir must be a different order of scale and difficulty again

  14. THE ESSEX GIRLS
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    It's not the north-west but we know that a major southern water company – not far from you – sold off reservoirs to improve their profits and balance sheet, We don't doubt the same thing has happened elsewhere and agree with you that this problem is directly attributable to the shortage of reservoir capacity. Surely our new government can be tougher over such a vital commodity even if sympathetic to the concept of privatisation.
    Somewhat related is a ladies take on the recent expose of the personal events in the life of a cabinet minister responsible, as it happens, for the crucial and woefully labour-neglected area of the future supply of other major utilities.It's fashionable to dismiss such matters as 'strictly private' etc etc but some readers will know from experience how such important, life-changing events take over a person's whole being for a long time. If a major politician can risk being diverted from his job and public duty and throw away a relationship that was seemingly at the heart of his political aspirations as well as his whole existence we don't doubt that such a man might be inclined to drop US in it too somewhere down the line. TO BE CONTINUED…

  15. THE ESSEX GIRLS
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    CONTINUATION…

    We ladies say this not as prudes, moralistic campaigners or man-bashers but from a strictly logical and pragmatic standpoint. In fact before now we had always admired this minister's credentials but can see a problem now on this vital but under-publicised problem area of 'keeping Britain’s lights on'.

    • Acorn
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      Am I missing something here girls. The post is about water you are about electric (I think). Anyway, this reminds me about Nuclear Desalination to produce electricity and water. Which, subsequently, reminded me that we have an HSE quango still trying to decide on the UK's next family of nuclear reactor technology.

      JR. If you catch the Speaker's eye, can you find out what is happening with the GDA; see this link.
      http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_UK_reactor_a

    • Stuart Fairney
      Posted June 25, 2010 at 5:23 am | Permalink

      Indeed, the lights on, the water flowing, sewage disposed of, buildings heated or cooled, transport moving and people fed etc. All require infrastructure to be built and to hell with biodiversity. Once the principle of rationing is accepted (i.e. water rationing via hose pipe bans), it will be expanded and the whole thing can become an enormous Trojan horse for the green movement

    • THE ESSEX GIRLS
      Posted June 25, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      THE FIRST PART OF OUR BLOG HASN'T APPEARED. WE HAD TO DO IT IN 2 PARTS AS WE WERE TOLD WE'D EXCEEDED OUR SPACE. HOPE IT MAKES MORE SENSE NOW! OOps weve now got to split this one in 2 2!

      It's not the north-west but we know that a major southern water company – not far from you – sold off reservoirs to improve their profits and balance sheet, We don't doubt the same thing has happened elsewhere and agree with you that this problem is directly attributable to the shortage of reservoir capacity.
      Surely our new government can be tougher over such a vital commodity even if sympathetic to the concept of privatisation.

      Somewhat related is a ladies take on the recent expose of the personal events in the life of a cabinet minister responsible, as it happens, for the crucial and woefully labour-neglected area of the future supply of other major utilities.

      • THE ESSEX GIRLS
        Posted June 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        It's fashionable to dismiss such matters as 'strictly private' etc etc but some readers will know from experience how such important, life-changing events take over a person's whole being for a long time. If a major politician can risk being diverted from his job and public duty and throw away a relationship that was seemingly at the heart of his political aspirations as well as his whole existence we don't doubt that such a man might be inclined to drop US in it too somewhere down the line.

        We ladies say this not as prudes, moralistic campaigners or man-bashers but from a strictly logical and pragmatic standpoint. In fact before now we had always admired this minister's credentials but can see a problem now on this vital but under-publicised problem area of 'keeping Britain’s lights on'.

  16. s.r.
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Pity the residents of the South West. The basic water/sewerage charge for a small 2 bedroom flat is £866. However, a water meter may reduce this. In the case of my flat, a water meter was not possible as the supply pipe is shared. South West Water then kindly reduced the charge to £355, as this is the assessed usage rate for metered use for 1 person. For 2 persons the charge is about £500. One has to wonder why the non metered rate is nearly twice the average metered.

    The system forces customers to opt for metered use. This of course suits the water company as the meters are expensive to install and require an army of meter readers, growing the turnover and value of the company and the cost is passed on to the captive customer. The regulator is keen to develop this.

  17. StrongholdBarricades
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    It would be nice to simply be able to hold these bodies to account for their policies

  18. Tony_E
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Agreed, the present system is not working. Privatisation only works where competition is available – private sector monopolies are more efficient in cutting costs than public sector ones, but they have no incentive to pass value on to the customer rather than to the shareholders.

    But the problem is how? It would be difficult to seperate the infrastructure from the regional companies as there is so much constant maintenance. (Railtrack was really another monopoly too and that hardly ended well having given very little value to the train operator).
    So it will be difficult to seperate service/supply and infrastructure in the water industry, and therefore very difficult to split that infrastructure cost between old and new competitors in a the market.

  19. A.Sedgwick
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I return to my recurring theme on Governments – ignoring the blindingly obvious.

    The creation of a water grid in this country, utilising rivers and regenerating canals would remove the ludicrous situation of summer droughts in this country, reduce flooding risks, improve water leisure facilities and may even create some hydro power.

    Sure it would cost money – probably the same as the EU or our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  20. christina sarginson
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I completely agree with your comments John. It is one thing that always drives me crazy when we have a few good days of sunshine, out come the threats of hosepipe ban. I agree the water companies should do more to prevent this happening, how do other countries manage who have a lot more sunshine than we do?

    • Mark M
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      "how do other countries manage who have a lot more sunshine than we do?"

      Short answer – because they are used to it. Think about it, if you're building water collection facilities are you going to build rainfall collectors in Egypt? No, you build a desalination plant, because the sea water is about the only water you have. Desalination is an expensive process – hence why we don't do it.

      You say a 'few good days of sunshine', but can you tell me when the North West last had a hosepipe ban?

  21. Woodsy42
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Apart from floods last year I seem to remember quite a bit of white stuff on the ground this winter past, snow I think they called it. I had always assumed it was made of water but maybe I was misinformed?

    • Mark M
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      It is, but not very much water. It works out that about 5 inches of snow is equivalent to 1 inch of rain. Hence why you don't get mass floods as soon as the snow melts.

      • Anne
        Posted July 1, 2010 at 5:39 am | Permalink

        Oh ye! it''s like the glaciers are all going to melt causing the sea to rise 10 metres!!!!! The North West have sold the water off for years as they had an excess of it, and they continue to do it even when there is less of it as they have a lucrative business deal.

  22. Kevin Peat
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    To be fair to the water companies they have had to deal with unforseen and unprecedented demographic change under New Labour.

    PS – when you said "… not a drop for a plant to drink." I thought you meant industrial plant. So how are we to revitalise our industry without water and – for that matter – without electricity in the coming years ?

  23. StevenL
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    "t should create new reservoirs"

    The Rhonnda Valley? That would keep a few hose pipes going!

  24. Eotvos
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    The UK climate is one of the wettest on the planet and it is scandalous, so many years after denationalisation, that the water companies are still restricting supply after short periods of dry weather.

    What procedures exist for consumers to reclaim their water payments if restrictions are imposed?

  25. billyb
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Don't see the connection with competition – how can that bring more water online? Natural monopolies will always be abused, privatised or not.

  26. Mark M
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    I can't help but feel you are being a bit harsh on United Utilities. I live in the North West and I can vouch for just how dry it has been since November. Indeed, Met Office data shows that it's been the 3rd driest Dec-May period in the past 100 years. This would affect the North West the more as we typically receive 16% more rainfall than the rest of the UK, so you'd expect our water supplies to rely more on rainfall than other, more expensive, sources.

    I do agree that there's a lot we could do with competition to get better service from our water companies, but when it's not raining I find it hard to blame the companies for hosepipe bans.

  27. Matthew
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    You my friend are so out of touch your in another solar system with your comments regarding your advice on how to surive the budget.

    Its ok for people like yourself with your money in the bank from expenses and mp benifits. Id love to challenge you on what on earth made you think it was a good idea to make them kind of comments.

    Just goes to show how far out of touch you MP's are with real people and not Westminster buddies.

    Yet a ga

  28. Javelin
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    It's funny how the national cliche is so important.

    Looking at the debt crisis and the huge protests in Paris today I have to ask, with so many EU countries reducing their Government – is France a country who will chicken out of soverign deficit reduction and crash the EU.

  29. Mike
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Good call John!

    Time to get the companies to invest in their infrastructure and deliver a world class service to the country that did it first and best!

    • Kevin Peat
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      I thought privatisation was meant to have sorted all this out.

  30. English Pensioner
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    As I understand it, Thames Water wants to build a huge reservoir somewhere out near Abingdon, but the local population is fighting tooth & nail against it. It will be rather unfair to blame Thames Water, if in due course London has a shortage. Similarly, Ken Livingstone prevented the construction of a desalination plant because it wasn't "green", but I believe that Boris has now allowed this to go ahead. The increased building doesn't help, water runs off into drains and rivers rather than going into the aquifer, and of course they need supplies (and other utilities) which are never considered. So its not entirely the water companies fault!

    Incidentally, a friend of mine, recently retired from the industry, believes the next World War will be over water rather than oil or any of the other things which are occasionally discussed. Virtually every non-island country in the world is currently arguing with their neighbours over water!

  31. Iain Gill
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    the way housing and businesses are allowed to be built where there is already undercapacity of water supply in years which are at the dry end of the bell curve is part of the problem

    i was in a hotel near halifax a few years ago when they were shipping water from one resevoir to a nearby empty one by road tanker – now thats what i call a crazy situation to find yourself in

    and of course the water standpipes or water tank trailers in the streets

    for our climate this all a crazy crazy situation

    as will the lights going out due to power supply undercapacity not too far in the future

  32. Bob
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    The govt should invest in a nation-wide water supply grid based on existing canals and new pipelines, to take water from flood hit areas to drought prone areas.

    It would create jobs, stimulate the economy and create a balanced hydro-infrastructure which industry will need if we are to get back on our feet after thirteen years of leftist vandalism.

  33. Andrew Johnson
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Spot on as usual. As soon as funds, time and commitment allow, Britain should embark on a national grid for water. This will involve rivers, canals, lakes and the building of new reservoirs. You're on record "flood defence is not rocket science". When the rivers are in full flood, the water should be diverted to aquifers or to reservoirs. There are a good number of greenish jobs that could be created. Local generation of electricity should also be investigated via water powered generators.

  34. Bazman
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Profits for North West Water must be plummeting in that great desert containing the Lake district. Meters are the answer with prices set accordingly to stop waste.

  35. Eddie
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Sadly, all the snow that fell in the winter, and all the floodwater, is now in the sea. The UK is so small that without reservoirs, we are at the mercy of recent rainfall. New reservoirs? Have you any idea what they cost? The (now cancelled) Upper Thames Reservoir would have cost £1 billion. Now who is paying?

  36. Alan Knell
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    This is the inevitable consequence of Mrs. Thatcher's failure to spend North Sea oil proceeds on a national water grid, and similar infrastructures.
    And why does nobody mention that mass immigration and population growth are straining the carrying capacity of these islands?

  37. grahams
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    Competition is not the answer to all ills. Water companies would love to build more reservoirs if they were allowed to by the regulator ( who was more interested in keeping bills low last time) and by planners (who thankfully still understand that voters do not want their villages,communities and farms obliterated). Grids are expensive, not least in energy cost, but a better alternative. If competition reduces prices, however, it will make them an uneconomic proposition. New competitors to utilities rarely invest and are often parasitic. Where they do invest, as in cable, they nearly always lose money, which also means they make an economic loss for the country. Ask any Eurotunnel investor.

  38. Iain
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    From the Guardian

    "The population rose by 394,000 from mid-2008 to reach 61.8 million at the end of June last year. The number of people in the UK has risen from 59.1 million in 2001, a reflection of fact that net migration and births outstripped deaths over most of the past eight years."

    Yet our politicans are surprised when there are resource shortages, and are incapable of connecting a rising population, with rising demand, and the resoruce shortages, from housing, road space, to water as such they are either incredibly stupid, or else don't want to confron the consequences of their polices, but please don't treat us like fools.

  39. Matt
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    A geologist has come up with a theory that Cumbria is made of the wrong sort of rock!

    It’s called granite and the water runs straight off.

    The water that deluged down the fell sides 6 months ago has joined the gulf stream and is probably now mixed in with all that oil.

  40. Mrs R
    Posted June 26, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Why isn't there the equivalent of a National Grid for water, with all water supplies connected to each other?

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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