Water bills and shortages

 

             It is predictable and sad that the south of the UK is threatened with water shortages.

             I remember urging the last government to put in more reservoir and desalination capacity. I asked in my news  release whether they wanted to greet Olympic athletes and visitors  to London in 2012 with words telling them to cut down on the showers and avoid using too much water.  Apparently they did want that, and sure enough it is coming to pass.

             There has to be a reason why an island surrounded by big seas where people worry about rising sea levels, with massive rainfall in many parts of the country, is unable to supply sufficient water for its population. The reason is simple. It is that we still choose to supply our water through local monopolies that are heavily regulated “in the public interest”.

             Potential challengers to the water monopolists find it difficult to get access to water supplies and access to the market for a variety of reasons. They are prevented from offering an alternative to  most consumers.  

               It is instructive to compare the bread and water industries. Both are important to life. Bread is a competitive more lightly regulated industry. I do not recall bakers poisoning their customers. I do not remember the industry issuing warnings that we will have to be put on allocation or rationing. They do not announce at Easter or Christmas when there is a rush to buy more bread,  cake  and buns for family feasts that there is Christmas cake or hot cross bun temporary suspension owing to too much demand.

              In contrast the water industry has been through some worrying water quality issues affecting supply. It is already telling us to use less of its product, and saying that there may have to be bans on garden water usage this summer. It is arguing that the reason is low rainfall this winter.

                 The bread industry does not use poor grain harvests as a reason to make less bread. The water industry seems to think that it can meet the ever rising demand from water stemming mainly from the growth of population in London and  the south East without putting in more capacity. We need to ask why? The industry also seems to think it is fine to assume heavy rainfall, and then to take it out on customers if it does not occur.

                Some people argue it is not green to use too much water. This is bizare. You cannot destroy water. There is a water cycle. All the industry has to do is to collect and clean it. We then use it and return it to the system. Of course government has to stop companies taking too much water out of streams and rivers so they dry up. Water companies collect a very small proportion of the water available. There is plenty of scope to expand supply without damaging rivers. I attended a meeting yesterday with representatives of the industry and regulators. The government’s White Paper wishes to strengthen competition. I proposed they go a lot faster and further in doing so. Without competition we will continue to have dear water, and occasional rationing.

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88 Comments

  1. Adam5x5
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Competition would also help with the leakage rates.

    I remember seeing a news report a few years ago saying Thames Water (or whoever it is in the SE) had a leakage rate of 50%…
    Could you imagine a bakery running if 50% of the loaves produced were simply thrown away straight from the oven?

    Though this doens’t really affect me very much – I live in Wales, where the rain never ends…

    • Peter T
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      I too live in Wales and it does rain, rain, rain. But this raises another question – should those who have be allowed to sell to those who have not? Some argue that water is a resource in the same way that gas or oil is a resource and therefore marketable whilst others regard water as God’ gift and thus selling it is immoral.

      • alan jutson
        Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        Peter

        I guess those who collect it can sell it.

        Those who treat it can charge for it.

        Otherwise what is the point

      • Rebecca Hanson
        Posted February 23, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        Can trump that. I live in Cockermouth….
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THw4gHGsZvU&feature=related

        I drive up and down the M6 with relentless stair-rodding listening to radio news reports about the drought ever hour…. before losing receptions shortly after the unique extreme weather system which resides around Shap.

      • Bazman
        Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

        Frank Gallagher’s opening speech from Shameless.

    • English Pensioner
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      My understanding is that except for major leaks when the water ends up going down drains, the numerous small leaks are immaterial as the water ends up soaking into the soil just like rain and ends up back in the aquifer. Thus the only waste is the effort of pumping and re-purifying the water.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Repairing those leaks (much excavation work and rebuilding required) is obviously uneconomic – especially on a system which was built in the Victorian era.

      As London and the SE is suffering a housing crisis, a hospitals crisis, a transport crisis, a jobs crisis… doesn’t it simply follow that there will be a water crisis too ?

      Please stop laying the blame on businesses, Mr Redwood.

      Clearly no-one could have forseen the pressures put on this country since the Tories signed Maastricht and opened the floodgates (a poor pun in this case.)

      We’d be gold medalists in downhill skiing were it not for the fact that competitors are required to wear skis.

      Otherwise we sure know how to go downhill fast. (An even worse pun – sorry)

      It’s quite obvious that those in the regions should now expect dispersal policies to be operated – I hear that Hull is next in line for London overspill.

      Are there no limits ?

      This can’t go on forever, surely ?

      • Steven Whitfield
        Posted February 29, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

        Are there no limits ?

        This can’t go on forever, surely ?

        It can’t go on forever….but precious few politicians or even environmental campaigners are willing to talk about sustainability.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5Xe_ATNWQQ&feature=related

        (please allow this link Mr Redwood)

  2. lifelogic
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    Indeed you are quite right. There is no shortage of water in the UK at all – just incompetence in the organisation of the delivery and charging structures. Not only do they fail to deliver properly they over charge for it too. It is almost as inefficient as the methods of health care, energy, justice, social services and education delivery are in the UK and for the same reasons.

    Why does Michael Gove, one of the few sensible ministers, want to prevent people taking their children out of school for the odd day for a cheaper holiday. They are quite likely to learn more on a holiday anyway. Does he think they will miss out on some green or lefty indoctrination on the importance of wind farms or something. Within limits parents should have very right to take them away for a few days now and then. They are not the children of the state after all.

    Why exactly do the greens want the water to run directly down the rivers straight into the sea rather than being used by humans first and then put back and into the sea?

    • lifelogic
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      I must say though that the quality of most bread in most shops & super markets nowadays is rather sad. Far better to make you own – it takes less time than going to the shops anyway and makes the house smell lovely too.

      • forthurst
        Posted February 23, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        That’s because JR is not fully appraised of the facts when he claims, “I do not recall bakers poisoning their customers.”

        Prior to our being dragooned into the EUSSR, we used to get our breadmaking wheat from Canada, of a quality hard enough to create a self-supporting loaf. Our bread is now made with added soya flour, high in phytic acid which is a poison (anti-nutrient). The natural process of breadmaking with hard wheat and yeast tends substantially to reduce the inherently lower levels of phytic acid. That is probably why people like French bread because it is made entirely of unadulterated wheat without the bitter taste of phytic acid. Sorry, John, they are poioning us.

        Reply: No they are not. They meet Food Agency standards and there is no evidence to suggest they are poisoning us.

        • Robert Christopher
          Posted February 23, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

          “meeting Food Agency standards” and “not poisoning us” are not the same thing!

          • Tom William
            Posted February 24, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

            Phytic acid is NOT a poison. See below:

            “Phytic acid may be considered a phytonutrient, providing an antioxidant effect. Phytic acid’s mineral binding properties may also prevent colon cancer by reducing oxidative stress in the lumen of the intestinal tract.Researchers now believe phytic acid, found in the fiber of legumes and grains, is the major ingredient responsible for preventing colon cancer and other cancers.”

          • forthurst
            Posted February 24, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

            Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient; it forms insoluble salts with essential metallic ions and is capable of causing deficiency disease in a restricted diet. It is noteworthy that the Chinese who have eaten soya for five thousand years either slake it (tofu) or ferment it (tempura, soy sauce).

      • Bazman
        Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

        Supermarket bread is not very good for sure, but not as bad as that over priced stuff from ‘French’ markets. Home made bread is like home brewed beer/wine though. Subject your relatives and soon to be ex-friends with it whilst showing holiday pics please. I have tasted some pretty good efforts from amateur bakers undermining real bakers by ‘playing’ in London though. Massively fat guy selling, making and eating only homemade ham sandwiches in a London market sticks the mind as outstanding!

    • StevenL
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      Why exactly do the greens want the water to run directly down the rivers straight into the sea …

      Speaking in my capacity as occasional barbel and pike fisherman, I must admit to a degree of scepticism when it comes to taking water out of the rivers.

      • A Different Simon
        Posted February 23, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

        The proposal to transport water accross waterways would do wonders to help the spread of the signal crayfish , asian topmouth gudgeon and other invasive species .

        I have a real problem with road run off being directed down domestic sewers which leads to floods overwhelming sewerage farms causing them to discharge raw sewerage directly into rivers .

        When the water receded about 4 years ago , the fields alongside the Thames stunk for weeks until the human excrement and killed fish broke down .

        What percentage of the Barbel population in the Thames and Thames tributary system do you think it killed ?

  3. Mick Anderson
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    The bread industry does not use poor grain harvests as a reason to make less bread

    True, but they will put up prices if the supply of grain is limited, and the cost is subject to the normal rules of supply and demand. The difference is that there are practical alternatives to bread, and there is a proper free market. Even in this small village there are two independent shops within walking distance where bread and alternatives are for sale.

    This is also part of their argument for compulsory water meters – if the supply is limited, they can increase price to reduce demand.

    My problem with adjusting the price according to supply is that most of the water wasted is due to poor maintenance by the water companies. In effect, they can put the price up to compensate themselves for their own incompetence.

    Even if we could move between different water companies on a day-by-day basis (which is never going to be possible), there is still a monopoly supplier – the company that owns the water in the reservoir.

    I suspect that the most effective solution would be a National Grid for water, although I baulk at the cost of actually creating it (more useful to more people than HS2, though). The local water supply companies could then be obliged to supply water at a pre-agreed cost, having to buy from elsewhere if their own harvesting and delivery attempts are inadequate, but not being able to charge more for it.

    Their profits would be improved by being better, not by being worse.

    • Bob
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

      Mr Redwood,

      Could your government divert the £0.2 billion that is being squandered on the HS2 preliminaries to do a national water study to look at the options for increasing water catchment / reservoir capacity, balance water supply/demand between the wetter regions and the drier ones and provide financial incentives for new buildings to make use of rainwater instead of tipping down the drains and recycle grey water?

      reply: It could do, but I doubt it will. PS it is not my government, it is the Coalition government.

      • Bob
        Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        And when will someone find a way to avoid having to run the shower for two minutes before any warm water comes though?

        Can you imagine how much water this wastes when multiplied by 60 million people, some of whom might shower more than once a day.

      • Steven Whitfield
        Posted February 24, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

        “PS it is not my government, it is the Coalition government”.

        Well said John Redwood – you are very wise to distance yourself from this shower.

  4. Roger Farmer
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    I think I suggested to you last week that a pipeline from Keilder to the South East layed along the North Sea was a more worthwhile project than the HS rail, without the enviromental impact. can anyone manufacture a suitable diameter of plastic pipe, preferably from recycled plastic. The replacement of ageing pipework in the earth should have been completed years ago.

    • lifelogic
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Indeed almost anything is more worthwhile than HS2 even wind farms it is not a very high threshold.

    • A Different Simon
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      A British company called Victrex specialises in manufacture of products from a polymer called peek which is especially suitable for tubing .

      Obviously it goes against the grain to award a contract to a company which would actually manufacture it in the UK .

      That would leave our “legally binding carbon emissions targets in tatters” .

  5. Atlas
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Indeed John, water is omni-present – it is not a resource that will run out due to man’s actions.

    You might be interested to know that it is the water vapour in the Earth’s atmosphere which really regulates the Earth’s temperature. It is far more important than carbon dioxide in that role.

  6. ian wragg
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Water is a basic right and should not be under the control of foreign companies. I am no socialist but if the water companies were publicly owned then we could make our displeasure felt at the ballot box.
    Privatisation has been a disaster with the gas/electricity and water industries and should be reversed.
    They could be run as franchises with stiff penalties for failure.

  7. James Reade
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    A very typical right-wing ruse, to compare apples and oranges to make a point. As you’ll be aware, I’m firmly supportive of more competition to shake up industries (credit ratings agencies being just one example of many), but it’s important to compare like for like.

    The bread industry is very different for one obvious reason – it’s dead easy to get your produce into your customer’s hands in the bread industry – get your loaf on the shelves at a supermarker. It’s not quite so easy with water – you need to gain access to some system that can provide it into the homes of millions of customers, and there will clearly be scale effects involved in doing that.

    Your comparison would be better between the bottled water industry and the bread industry, and then you’d probably find a lot of similarities. Bottled water companies are much more flexible to different demand levels at different times – heatwaves and the like – because their bottom line depends on it.

    Now having said all that, I fully agree with getting a system in place that allows competition amongst water utilities, I just have concerns about how it would work. Do we want competing water companies digging up all our roads to put in their pipes alongside the existing pipes, even if they are better?

    It does strike me something along the lines of your roads suggestion would be better – the system is centrally built and then contracted out to firms to run – but then that creates a heck of a lot of scope for cronyism and other generally uncompetitive practices, as I think we’ve seen on the railways. In theory it works, and I guess we just need to work out how to best draw up the contracts. But do you think a good contract will ever get through parliament unscathed?

    My sense is it’s much more complicated than you make out here. Yes, we certainly could break up the larger providers to ensure there’s a competitive market in which the market price isn’t distorted by monopolistic behaviour, but we’d still need to ensure that water system was kept up to scratch to avoid it becoming as outdated as it’s become (and that’s definitely not something you can play politics with and blame the last govt for – you lot had plenty of time to get on with updating the system between 1979 and 1997).

    • Winston Smith
      Posted February 24, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Labour added 2.5m to the population since 1997 through its mass immigration agenda. They all consume water.

  8. alan jutson
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    How about a comparison with the private electricity industry.

    Also a basic need for life, has competition, is very expensive, has a minefield of various charges and rates, and will also soon be rationed.

    Agree with your warnings on water, but the nimby culture to new reservoir capacity, and the reluctance to invest in a national grid type pipework system, and of course a growing population, does not help matters.

    Never know we may all soon be sinking wells in our own gardens, not out of choice but neccessity, even poor quality water could be used for flushing loo’s.
    Something to also be said about rainwater capture and storage, although need to make sure the water does not turn bad.

  9. David Williams
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    In southern Spain it rains very little yet there have been no restrictions in as many years as I can remember. I pay less than half per cubic metre than I pay in the UK. There is no competition. The differences are that everyone has a meter, the water does not taste very good (but 99% of it goes down the sink or on the garden anyway), and profits don’t go to foreign companies.

  10. NickW
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    So where is the water going to come from for all those tens of thousands of new homes in the South East?

    We aren’t going to get the improved transport infrastructure which was originally linked to the planning consents for new homes, and our local planners ignore water supply issues completely.

    Our water comes from aquifers which become more and more depleted as the land is concreted over for development.

    What is the point of having town planners who ignore the most fundamental issues of development and deliberately plan for a drought ridden traffic jam?

    • alexmews
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      NickW

      I thought the water table in SE England was actually rising? this was due msainly to the drop in industrial use of water. it is causing various issues for London Underground for example who have to invest in pumps etc as some deep lines are now getting wet.

      • Robert Christopher
        Posted February 23, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        If so, why the desalination plant for London?

        Or is this water not suitable?

      • Winston Smith
        Posted February 24, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        We did have many reservoirs that served industry. They are being filled in to build housing. The most recent was in Spondon, Derbyshire.

  11. Alison
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Yet more proof that government regulation and interference have the opposite effect to that claimed for it. Less regulation, less government, fewer bureaucrats is what we need.

  12. Disaffected
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    The Socialist Coalition prefers to spend £32 billion on a single rail line that will not add tangible value for the infrastructure of this country. The Lib Dems /Labour advocated and want more immigration.

    It has not stopped mass immigration, quite the reverse its policies positively encourages it. Birth rate four times higher than in 1980. This will increase further. Mr Green and Ms May have no idea how many people enter the country or where they are. Both should be sacked for incompetence. They try to use figures that will provide the lowest figure to sell to the public. Add immigration, asylum seekers, illegal entrants and it is quite worrying that the UK infrastructure will not be able to cope.

    The UKs security by definition is compromised, yet the Socialist Government still wants to tell us that it is necessary to go to war in Middle East countries. The courts allow the harbouring of terrorists, whether legally or illegally entering the country, and appear impotent to get rid of them through the EU imposed HRA (Cameron was going to get rid of this).

    John, the Socialist Government departments do not work in harmony to achieve an overall Socialist Government goal. Whether that goal is the economy or to improve services for the people of this country.

    Water bills continue to rise vastly over inflation, we have a quango that is meant to protect the public’s interest and I have yet to read or witness justifiable improvements for the claims that it is necessary to make huge hikes in our water bills (share holders have benefitted).

    To add insult, Scotland still provides water to the public without additional cost.

    • nicol sinclair
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      Rubbish! The Scots’ water costs and costs a lot. I am metered (not by choice) and the cost is more than before, without meter.

      • Bazman
        Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        The Great Meter Scam is yet to unfold.. I have a meter not through choice. When I bought the house, a three bedroom ex-council house. I got it mainly because local families able to afford the asking price ran a mile when they saw the water meter, put in by a tenant and allowed by a absentee landlord. The bills are high with two adults and one child, but with multiple children and watering the garden would be unaffordable by a family in this area. Ram it.

  13. Julian
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    The reason straightforward – as in many of these public monopolies gone private monopolies they are run for the directors and senior management:

    “Telegraph 16 Jul 2011: Tony Wray, Severn Trent’s chief executive, will receive an annual bonus this year of £252,000, while the finance director, Michael McKeon, will take a £218,500 bonus pot. Half of their bonuses are paid in cash and the other half in shares to be held for three years. ”

    How can a water company director who has lets be honest has an easy job earn more the prime minister – it is all so wrong. Someone needs to do what Medvedev did to the public sector in Russia.

  14. Iain
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    ” There has to be a reason why an island surrounded by big seas where people worry about rising sea levels, with massive rainfall in many parts of the country, is unable to supply sufficient water for its population. ”

    Simple, over population.

    Why our are politicians always so blind to bleeding obvious?

    We get politicians weeping copious amounts of crocodile tears about youth unemployment , yet it seems to completely escape them that when all the new jobs are going to immigrants our youth are going to be left rotting on benefits. Same with housing, Oh gosh our politicians there on our TV screens expressing their undying concerns about the desperate shortage of housing, but it doesn’t take a life form with more one brain cell to realise that when you are stuffing 250,000 people into an over populated country whilst building 70,000 homes you are going to have a problem, and the same with water.

    Our politicians do not seem to be able to grasp the concept that we are, have (some time age) , reached the limits of being able to supply a vast range of services as well as the environments ability to take the stain of their insane population policy.

    The South East of England is not well endowed with rain.

    The South East of England has seen a massive population rise, in the last decade population here has risen by 8% , in the next 20 years the Office of National Statistics project a 17% rise.

    Desalination plants are energy expensive to run, who is going to pay?

    One litre of water costs £0.00225

    One litre of petrol costs £1.50

    Its costs a lot of energy to shift 1000litres (1 ton) of water up a hill. Moving millions of tons of the stuff around the country is going to cripplingly expensive.

    So it seems the choice we have is to have the state carry on with their insane population policy and so dumping the costs of it on us, or have a more sustainable population, live within the natural resource we have and not have to pay for transporting water around or have to pay for desalination plants.

    • Graham
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Well put and correct.

    • sm
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Immigration(net ) exerts downward pressure on wages.
      Immigration(net ) adds to housing demand.
      Immigration (net) adds to energy demand.
      Immigration (net) adds to food demand.
      Immigration (net) adds to water demand.
      Immigration(net) adds to land demand.
      Immigrations(net) adds to GDP, not GDP/capita.
      Immigration(net) as practised by the UK adds to increased demand for social subsidy.

      Perhaps the government should reduce immigration instead of talking about it. How about a market price for an immigration ticket?

      Your right to be worried you cant create water out of thin air like money and rationing physically or by price may just prove the abject failure of strategic government.

      • lojolondon
        Posted February 24, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

        How about a market price for an immigration ticket?

        Now THAT is an idea I support!! An annual auction – 500 tickets for sale, gentlemen, place your bids!

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Expect a dispersal programme to take place soon. Not of water but of population.

      It is clear that the Tories are going to do nothing to stem the influx of people so that’s about all they can do.

    • Steven Whitfield
      Posted February 24, 2012 at 12:26 am | Permalink

      “So it seems the choice we have is to have the state carry on with their insane population policy and so dumping the costs of it on us, or have a more sustainable population, live within the natural resource we have and not have to pay for transporting water around or have to pay for desalination plants”

      A very good analysis – having no credible policy to deal with the Uk’s population growth (0.7% pa) is madness. But trying to finding an Mp who is willing to go on the record to honestly discuss the issue is near on impossible.

      • Winston Smith
        Posted February 24, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        Yes, even JR is too frightened to discuss it. So many of our problems are a direct consequence of mass immigration, yet, the political/media elite continue to conspire to lie to us.

        Reply NOnsense, we have often discussed it here.

  15. A Different Simon
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Even with a population of over 63m , there is something deeply disturbing about spending money on desalination plants rather than reservoirs .

    Are we sure this isn’t yet another way for vested interests to get their hands on more public money than is needed to solve the problem ?

    After the feed-in-tariff fiasco which Huhne and Camerons dad availed themselves of and falling standards of public propriety there needs to be proper scrutiny to find out who benefits financially BEFORE any public money is released .

  16. stred
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Water Companies love regulation and the more expensive the solution the better.
    For example in the Sussex coastal area, an expensive scheme is under construction which transfers sewage along the coast to a large new treatment works. This was campaigned for by surfers, who liked to whizz over the waves near the end of the existing outlet about half a km out. Nobody else suffered from a close encouter with sewage after a storm. There is already a storage tunnel under the beach which was supposed to to cure the problem. The result will be felt soon. Water charges will rise to a similar level towards those in the South West, where purification along the long coastline has resulted in charges of over £1k pa. Also the system will use much more electrical energy and the CO2 cost of construction is also enormous.

    In London the new sewer connecting from west to an eastern treatment works will cost towards 5 billion pounds and also increase charges. This is the only solution according to the monopoly supplier and they are about to start work.

    However, these schemes could be avoided altogether if methods tried abroad had been considered. The sewage can be skimmed and aerated locally. And the basic problem is caused by the insistence of local authorities on tipping surface water straight into sewers which connect to a combined system. This has also resulted in less natural ground water for use during drought. It is a simple matter to divert roof and parking water into soakaways or to let it go straight into the ground.

    Some time ago I arrived in the south of France to cut my garden shed in half, along with about 20 other owners of holiday homes from the north. An official in the Marie had misundertood the problems caused by drainage of hard surfaces. They blamed flooding on the growth of roof areas and had introduced limits to shed areas. In fact, the rain just fell off the roof and ran back under the shed during heavy rain, so the reduction had no effect. The problem was actually caused by a lack of ditches. This illustrates how misunderstanding of officials can have expensive and wasteful consequences.

    Water companies will also do very well out of the change to metering. This is much more expensive except for the most meagre users. The whole cost of installaion and an army of meter readers and accountants can be added to turnover.

    As regards the need for new reservoirs, has anyone considered the possibility of using the glut of mega tankers to transport water from the wet north to the dry south. Our gas storage needs are met by tankers lining up off Milford Haven. Tankers could provide an instant national grid.

    The ever increasing purity levels and the need for new storage the industry makes the industry a safe bet for investment. Except, that we can only invest in one large company- the rest have been snapped up by overseas groups who know a licence to print money when they see one.

  17. English Pensioner
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    From memory, there was a proposal to build a desalination plant somewhere in East London, which was prevented by Ken Livingstone when he was mayor. A move to build a huge reservoir in west Berkshire was opposed by the local community. So it’s not all the water companies’ fault.
    We should encourage recycling in all new properties as in countries like Australia, where waste water from rain, baths, showers, dishwashers, etc is stored in underground tanks and recycled for use in flushing toilets. A comparatively cheap solution if installed as part of new building, just a buried tank and a pump to feed a header tank for the toilets.

  18. Iain Gill
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    lots of bread has far too much salt for a healthy diet, that in its own way is ruining the health of many bread customers, so not the best of examples i feel

    • uanime5
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

      Not to mention a lot of fat to make it last longer which makes bread customers overweight / obese.

      • Winston Smith
        Posted February 24, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        No, over-eating and lack of self control makes people obese. Eating bread in reasonable quantities will not make anyone fat.

  19. Matthew J
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    It isn’t green to use too much water because of the energy intensive processes involved in cleaning it. In Britain we flush our toilets, water our gardens and clean our windows with water that is pure enough to drink. There’s no real need for that and it means that the environmental cost is greater than it out to be.

    • Steven Whitfield
      Posted February 24, 2012 at 12:43 am | Permalink

      Aswell as the cost of pumping and treating the water, there is the cost of heating it up using oil, gas and electricity for bathing. Despite the elimination of much of our ‘dirty’ industries the average Briton now takes far more baths and showers than he did in the 60’s & 70’s. This new affluent culture might have made us a more clean nation but it is not good news for the environment

      Putting this aside, many rivers and streams are damaged by over extraction even by the NRA’s own assesments.

  20. Liz
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    The planning system in the UK makes any kind of infrastructure project a nightmare. As soon as anything is proposed out come the lobby groups, the petitions, the protests and endless appeals. This is the problem of doing anything to improve the infrastructure in a small overcrowded island where there are no empty spaces. The problems in the water industry were compounded by allowing companies to be sold abroad to people who will always put their own compatriots first and us last. The competition authorities should call in practically every major takeover because almost none of them are in the public interest – instead most are allowed through without even being referred. The past Government and also it seems this one have no interest in long term infrastructure – their only concern is with completely useless windmills. Meanwhile Heathrow is losing out to foreign competitors as it is at capacity, the roads are slow and clogged. energy will be rationed in a few years as power stations are closed. No new water resources have been built since the last “drought”. It might help if Media interviewers of Water Company spokesmen where a bit more agressive in asking why they have done nothing in all this time instead of seeming to regards it merely as an amusing Act of God.

  21. Neil Craig
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure how competition works when everybody we have one piping system Perhaps John could explain.

    I am, as ever, annoyed, at the imperial way this is reported by the BBC etc. Reading between the lines it is obvious they cannot claim that this “drought” is caused by any historically unprecedented shortage of rainfall but entirely by lack of facilities and investment. Nonetheless they report it as if all the responsibility lies with us oedinary people and that it is all because of this alleged catastrophic global warming we are also blamed for.

    Reply: You can use the pipe system as a network with competitors allowed to use the common carrier for a fee, as we do with other pipe and wire networks. It may also be the case that the market would supply recycling/reuse equipment for the home, and possible it would be a paying proposition to introduce a new delivery system. When competition was allowed in telephones others did put in networks.

    • Bazman
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

      Much of the advances in the telephone system were down to advances in technology. BT like to claim they ‘invented’ the internet. In the utilities market we are heading towards a ‘Big Six’ verses the population scenario. The water system is even more physical than this.

  22. Mactheknife
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    One of the major isssues is that we actually collect very little of the rainfall we get, in fact I read somewhere the figure is only 4% or so. This is ludicrous.

    I lived in the gulf in the UAE and all of the water supply there was from desalination. A bonus from this was the plants were combined power generation and desalination plants as its part of the same process – trebles all round as we solve the water and energy crisis in one go !!!

    The earth is 70% ocean, so water should not be a shortage anywhere, least of all on our small island.

  23. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Far too many people in the country. thats the root of the problem.

    • Bob
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      @J. Norfolk
      And that of course is a direct consequence of EU membership.

      • Mactheknife
        Posted February 23, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        And our ample and generous benefits and welfare system of course.

    • Bazman
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

      Probably said in medieval times.

  24. Keith Peat
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Slightly oblique take on this but from a driving perspective, any kind of clean drinkable water would not be available to us without UK’s drivers keeping the systems running.

    Please forgive me for focusing on the application of my main interest, the driver, in any topic if it is valid and to highlight their crucial contribution to our economy and basic needs if it is at all pertinent.

  25. David John Wilson
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    You seem to have produced a strong case for ceasing further house building in the south east. There needs to be strong government action to move employers to the high unemployment areas, most of which do not have a water shortage problem.

  26. Martin C
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    John, it’s not quite a like-for like comparison.
    The average person uses 63 tonnes of water per year (drinking, washing, laundry etc), never mind industry use. The average person only eats 45kg of bread per year, assuming half a loaf per day.
    So assuming an abundance of bread in the north of the country and a famine in the home counties it would be perfectly feasable to supply everyone’s needs by road/rail, cheaply and easily.
    It is not feasable to transport the abundance of water in the north down to the home counties using existing transportation except in dire emergency and then only for drinking purposes (in the event of nuclear contamination of water supply, for example).
    We do badly need a major North-South water transportation network. Re-open the canals? Construct a huge pipe? something like that.

  27. stan francis
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    haven’t read all but it’s obvious that the reason no interconnection of reservoirs is something to do with price to water autho’s..it’s been going on for years and is a problem that could have been sorted out by children..SO BLEEDIN’ OBVIOUS??….the amount of uni grads out of work is equal to non grads, what’s that say?….whoever gets a job at an interview niether has experience-Employment is via sharing the load, gov’t and employer-man wants £8 hourly, he gets equivelent to on benefits of say £5 hourly so ipso facto, is there an employer that can afford 3 quid??..Blimey u lot r u just there to take our tax money OR WHAT??..yes on a tangent but I am fed up at 65 years of age still running a business and the BLEEDIN’ OBVIOUS IS just a SPACE….AND YEP DON’T PRINT THIS ONE EITHER ON TRUTH!

  28. John B
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I live in a tiny hamlet in France near nowhere. About a week ago during Le Grand Froid, late Saturday morning I noticed water flowing out of the ground and down the road about 100 metres along the road from my house. My water was down to a trickle.

    I called the water company – had to wait until the end of le Lunch – and within an hour somebody was out with a digger to sort the problem out. My water was restored within about two hours from making the call.

    Water here is metered and if it goes into the ground rather than through a meter, the water company gets no money.

    When I last lived in the UK, I and my neighbours reported a leak from the main under the road numerous times over a three week period – each time met with the response, “Yes we know about it” – before it was fixed. It burst again two days later and took a further two weeks to fix.

    Water charges here are about 90€ per year standing charge (incl TVA at 19,9%) and 12 cents per litre consumption (incl TVA at 5.5%).

    I do not have mains drainage so probably the consummation charge would perhaps double in that case.

    My consumption for last year – I have a pool – was 130 cubic metres costing 161,29€ and a total water bill of 145,48€.

    I really cannot understand the resistance to metered supply in the UK, or why metered bills should be any higher than here in France a much bigger Country with many remote houses and villages to supply, dotted around the countryside.

    Metering does make you more conscious about use of water but not to the point of self-denial. It also makes water companies more conscientious in preserving and restoring supplies as it reduces their income if it just drains into the ground.

    I think metered supply in the UK would be a start, but certainly there needs to be an improvement in infrastructure too.

    • Bazman
      Posted February 25, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      Excellent idea. Maintaining supplies for those lucky enough to have large gardens and swimming pools will help keep prices lower for large families on low incomes with water meters and prevent wastage? Once the water companies. Once the water companies have water meters in every household they will also have access to everyone’s bank account and we will be in same situation as exists with the power companies. Water meters will allow increases in profits without any improvements in infrastructure. Bills will have little relevance to volumes of water. Count on it

  29. Martin
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Historically water companies were local. Even under privatisation they continued as regional companies. As a result no grid has emerged to transfer water from places of surplus to the places of deficit.

    Some on here have criticised our bread. When I go on my travels I do miss our bread.

  30. a-tracy
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Do they charge the same for water all over the Country?
    I remember reading about Liverpool Council apologising a few years ago for flooding a Welsh valley to provide water for Liverpool, would Liverpool’s water board have bought the valley and the compulsory purchase of homes in the Welsh valley or do the Welsh Council lease the land and charge for storing and pumping the water.
    I’m curious now, how many reservoirs are there in England and Wales, is there one in each County?

    • Richard Cantliffe
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      No, they do not charge the same for water everywhere. South West Water charges the most, and always tries a new excuse to put it`s prices up, and we are looking forward to a rebate from the government of £50 in 2013! But with the price we pay they would not dare tell us that water was scarce, as there is plenty of it. But not for anywhere else in the country, as it would bankrupt you, with the payment that SWW would want for it.

  31. Barbara Stevens
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Firstly, there are far to many people in the county using water than we can afford to keep. We are over populated, yet, no government we’ve had over the past 40 years as said enough if enough and closed the door, or had controls. Secondly, water metering; it should now be all over the country not just had hoc. Water waste is terrible in this country, cleaning cars and it’s running down the road, watering lawns etc, surely we should all understand water is a precious commodity and should be repected. I opted for a water meter, but having the builders in late last year, and cleaning up the water I used went up. I’m now looking to this quarter and keeping an eye on water usuage. So, having a meter does make one take more care. You pay for what you use and to me that’s fair. I now only use a washing machine when its a full load, dishwasher the same, mostly every other day with just a rinse when not in use. Washing is the most expensive and I’ve got that down to three loads per week. It can be done with effort. When you have to pay you do take care. Perhaps this is the way we should all go.

    Reply: Governments prior to 1997 had quite strong border controls which kept net inward migration down to around one fifth of recent levels. We also had control of our own borders in those days, until more powers were given away to the EU.

  32. Andrew Johnson
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Best solution I have come across is from a campaigning professor, much maligned by his peers and various vested interests:-
    1) Treat water retention and flooding as the national priority it is.
    2) As financial resources are allocated, begin building a national water distribution network. This can be done in prioritised modules.
    3) Build more reservoirs. Expensive, but necessary, also provides a valuable amenity.
    4) When a river is in flood, divert some of the water to aquifers where appropriate, or to reservoirs. This would eliminate most catastrophic and expensive flooding and build up water supplies.
    Mr. Redwood is on record as saying “Flood prevention is not rocket science”.
    Well, neither is ensuring that every part of the British Isles is provided with adequate water supplies.

  33. BobE
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Near me is a wier accross the Thames. It would be easy to extract 20% of the massive volume of water spilling over this wier. It would have no impact on the bit of the river that I see. This is just a lack of will or lazyness.

    • Winston Smith
      Posted February 24, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      That is not true. The Thames flow is managed by sluices at weirs. Shutting sluices and removing large quantities of water will reduce the levels further downstream.

  34. Bazman
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Why not just go to the local baker, buy a generator and buy bottled water? What is wrong with you people?

  35. Bob
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood,

    slightly o/t – In the light of the brawl in the HOC bar yesterday, do you think we should continue to subsidise alcohol in these establishments? Or would it be better to impose a minimum price system to discourage over indulgence?

    Reply: I do not agree with subsidised alcohol in the Commons. I do not usually drink alcohol there, and do not use the bars but those who do tell me some recent press reports have used very old prices for Commons drinks. There has been a price up policy this Parliament.

  36. sjb
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    JR wrote: “I remember urging the last [Labour] government to put in more reservoir and desalination capacity. ”

    Did your own party when it was in government from 1979 – 1997 provide sufficient extra capacity?

    Reply: I urged them to put in more competition and more capacity as well. I was not seeking to maker a party political point, but to make the point the current shortage was easy to forecast and could have been prevented.

  37. Steven Whitfield
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    “The reason is simple. It is that we still choose to supply our water through local monopolies that are heavily regulated “in the public interest”.

    Mr Redwood I disagree with the emphasis of your analysis , – the problem of the ‘local monopolies’ is just a side issue in our water supply problems.

    Pretending that changing the environment in which water companies do business could solve the problems of too many people demanding too little water from the wrong place is misguided in my view.

    I also find drawing paralleds with the bread supply chain rather unhelpful in this debate.

    A large family of 5 do not pay as much for their bread as what an old lady living on her own would pay. The large family cannot help themselves to as much bread as they want without incuring any additional charge.

    The breadmaker can buy in grain from abroad. The water company cannot import water.

    The breadmaker can double what he charges the poorest and richest customers alike and we all agree this is fair. ( a loaf of brown was about 60p in 2006 – now I’m paying £1.26 for the same loaf).
    If the water company do this, there are howls of protests about ‘the most vunerable people in society’ being placed in hardship. I guess the left would label it ‘water poverty’.

    The breadmaker can move his stock from warehouse to warehouse so it follows demand. The water utility cannot do this.

    The big issue in the water supply debate has been unsustainably rising demand, fuelled in part by years of unsustainably high immigration particular to the southern regions.
    We have had droughts in the past when our population was lower, but the possibility of managing dry periods without serious disruption in supply will become impossible if we do not reduce demand.

    If as predicted we are on track for a population of 70 million in the not too distant future, we need 16% extra capacity just to maintain our current supply per capita. To solve the problem we would need to put in capacity over and above this amount to improve provision. How are we going to find the space to grow all the extra food, build the new houses required etc. without attempting to reclaim the North Sea ?
    And then when 70 million is reached, do we start to plan for 100 million. Or should we take the only sane action and decide to start limiting the increase in water consumption now ?.

    It’s impossible to square this circle, yet politicians pretend that the laws of mathematics, unconvenient though they are, do not apply.

    Official government policy seems to be to pretend there is no problem , the fiasco with border checks shows lack of focus and urgency on this issue . I think the people are entitled to an honest discussion on what the implications of this policy will be.

    Mr Redwood your webpage promises “Incisive and topical campaigns and commentary on today’s issues and tomorrows problems”. I would strongly suggest that uncontrolled immigration,coupled to a rising birth rate that nobody in government has any urgency or desire to control, or indeed any awareness of how millions of extra people are to be housed and supplied with water. is most definitelty an ‘issue and one of ‘tomorrows’ problems’ worthy of discussion.

    Reply: I agree high levels of immigration are an issue. We have discussed it several times on this site. The government has clearly stated it intends to cut net inward migration substantially and is putting in place policies to do so. We have discussed whether these will work and why they are taking so long. There is no wish to “sweep it under the carpet” or to deny people voice on this matter.
    A lot of water is n ow metered in the UK, so people do pay more if they consumer more, just like bread. Water companies have a number of options to increase supply, but have not used these sufficiently.

    • Steven Whitfield
      Posted February 24, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      Mr Redwood ,many thanks for your reply, much appreciated.

      I have noted comparitively little discussion of immigration on this site , but have read transcripts of speeches from Damian Green and David Cameron on immigration – so far actions do not match the rhetoric. In light of recent disclosures I think that this subject is ripe for re-visiting.

      When we hear that Mr Green allegedly allowed passport checks to be abandoned at busy times, I think he needs to be held to account at every opportunity.

      Your meeting with the water industry regulators could have been more effective if issues with the sustainability of serving a rising population was at the forefront of the discussion.
      The industry does not simply recycle an abundant supply of fresh water – much of it around London for example goes up the Thames and becomes seawater. It only comes back when it evaporates and rains in the righ place in Kent.

      It is a increasingly scarce resource that is in high demand – I’m still not convinced how changing the regulation of the water supply industry can change this. The central issue is a finite supply of economically recoverable water.

      Making the water supply industry ‘more competitive’ is just shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic’.
      Mr Redwood, I believe your influence would have been better utilised if you had asked the water company representatives how they are planning to expand water supply in the South East to meet the demands of a 40 % increase in population.

      We need it to be public knowlede what the costs will be and how much damage the new infrastructure will do to the environment. Maybe the answers might focus Mr Green’s and Mrs May’s mind a little better on their responsibility’s.

      Reply: I have regularly asked the water industry to provide for the expanding populaiton and did so again last week. I have also held review meetings with Mr Green over how he intends to implement Mr Cameron’s pledge to curb immigration substantially, and have reported back to this site.

      • Bazman
        Posted February 25, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        All evidence shows ‘more competitive’ means more expensive in the long term.

      • Steven Whitfield
        Posted February 29, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

        Reply: “I have regularly asked the water industry to provide for the expanding populaiton and did so again last week”.

        Mr Redwood as i’m sure your aware, the UK’s population is growing at a rate of 0.7% PA. If you do the mathematics the population will reach 120 million in around 100 years at this rate. It seems to me that governments formulating policies that facilitate population increase is part of the problem – not the solution.
        A better question for the water companies would be could they increase water supply capacity by 25% or 50% ,(in line with population estimates) and at what cost ?. I’m convinced that the government only thinks as far as the next general election – it’s up to broader thinking politicians to open up the debate.

        Please use your efforts to change the terms of the debate on migration and population growth onto the practical considerations – food, space, sewers.jobs, water supply, roads etc.

        “You cannot sustain population growth; you cannot sustain growth in the rates of consumption of resources.” This Law cannot be repealed. Prof A Bartlett.

  38. Monty
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    A national grid for water does appear to be a very sound idea. It would need a very comprehensive survey to determine how it could be configured, and how the system flows could be regulated and controlled. I am not aware that any serious study has ever been carried out. I fear it would be ultra expensive to build, maintain, and run.

    We might be better off considering ways in which our requirements for drinking-quality water could be reduced. Perhaps communities living in coastal zones and estuaries could benefit from piped seawater for non-critical applications, such as flushing toilets. Household rainwater collection systems could play a similar part.

  39. lojolondon
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Who remembers the (device-ed) perpetrated on California by Enron? Blaming people for using too much power, Enron deliberately cut the electricity supply to business areas for up to 16 hours. After several blackouts, the began using the ‘shortage’ as justification to charge higher prices ‘to contain usage through market forces’.

  40. Barry
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I am greatly puzzled by this so called water shortage at least in the Crowthorne Wokingham area. I have a good understanding of the local environment as a cross country runner and walker who has been out in the area nearly every day for most of the past 50 years. The countryside is awash with water and has been so for some considerable time. I can recall REAL local droughts and there is simply no comparison with the conditions of plentiful water on the land that prevail today. I dread to think of the consequences of a REAL drought in this area.
    The failure of thewater suppliers must be addressed urgently. We need a plentiful supply of water for reasons of hygiene and health. The government agency (The Environment Agency) as usual have proved useless in causing the water companies to deliver according to our needs. At least cancel bonuses of those responsible in the agency and possibly replace failing staff with those that can deliver.

  41. pete
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Has anyone looked at the feasibility of using the UKs canal network to move water from one side of the country to the other?

    Clearly they are all intelinked in some way so have extraction/treatment points at the high demand locations and insertion points in the north and west where rainfall is not an issue must be something worth considering.

    As an example I live in North Wales, the river Dee travels alongside a canal which links to the midlands and beyond. How hard would it be to pump out water from these sort of rivers when needed?

  42. Bazman
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Anglican water sent bill out every six months, but now bill every three months. Why would they double their billing costs? Has nothing been learned from the energy companies tricks like offering thousands of different tariffs and then blaming the customers for changing suppliers? This is where water is going.

  • About John Redwood


    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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