A very wet drought

 

             The imposition of a ban on hosepipe use in the south of England coincided neatly with the arrival of rain bearing winds day after day. It is a very wet kind of drought.

               It goes alongside the very cold kind of global warming we are experiencing yet again this April.

             Spare me the official explanations. I understand that winter rainfall has been below average for two winters running. I  understand that two cold winters and now a cold April may be just patches of weather. We can shivver together, with many still worrying about the long term trend of global warming.

               The problem with all these clever explanations, right or wrong, is they defy the present reality that most preoccupies people. It is easier to persuade people there is a natural crisis in our water supply if  there has been no rain for weeks and if we are living through a freak heat wave. It is much easier to get people to believe global warming if most of the time they feel warmer than they did a decade ago.

                   I do not accept the water industry’s claim that the rainfall has been so unusual that we must blame the gods of nature for the shortage of water. I have been urging the water industry in London and the south-east to build more capacity for over a decade now. I remember sending out a press statement years ago when we won the Olympic bid saying that if we did not build another reservoir in the south we would be welcoming people to the Olympics with water rationing in place.  They did eventually get round to building an expensive desalination plant, which helps. The truth is they need more storage capacity, and fewer leaks, throughout the south.

                  People outside the south cannot understand the fuss about water. They have had plenty of snow and rain for their needs. The problem in the south is successive governments have allowed the entry of several  millions of additional people, many of whom have settled in the south, without ordering the extra water capacity they need.

                 There is plenty of rain, even in the south. We do not collect enough of it, and we do not have good enough delivery systems once captured.  That can be mended, so even after a winter or two of below average rainfall, we can still use the water we want. Water is the ultimate renewable resource. You cannot destroy it. You just need to capture a bit more of it on its way back to  the sea, after rainfall. Other industries take pleasure in meeting growing demand for their products. I do not recall Easter egg rationing or a shortage of turkeys at Christmas.

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103 Comments

  1. Kevin Ronald Lohse
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    One of the reasons I value this blog is the author’s ability to see and explain the bleeding obvious. Unfortunately,in this government he is constantly a target for having the temerity to point out the nakedness of the emperor. I would suggest that if there hadn’t been a drought in olympic year, the Government would have found some other means of inconveniencing the south-eastern population over water to ensure the success of the vanity project. And we laughed at the Chinese last time.

    • lifelogic
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      Politicians in general tend to specialise in the bleeding obvious (or out right claims that black is white) such as Cameron’s I am on the side of the elderly and business.

      • nicol sinclair
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        How right you are! It’s bleedin’ obvious that the water company(ies) need to fix the bloody leaks and lay pipes from us to you…

        We, in Scotland, always have a surplus H2O. Where is the damn pipe to assist you all in the South East?

        • Susan
          Posted April 19, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

          nicol,

          It would cost too much to lay pipes from Scotland down to England.

          Scottish water was never privatised at the same time as England and Wales, although changing its status is being looked at.

          The water in England and Wales was privatised without the Government keeping any control for the future. So the first thing that happened was that prices began to rise. From then onwards it was about making profits rather than a good water system. The population rise merely added to the problem.

        • lifelogic
          Posted April 19, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

          Water (unlike electricity) is rather expensive to pump about the country.

          • Bazman
            Posted April 20, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

            Electricity can hardly said to be cheap to move around given pylon/cable cost and transmission loses. You as a rocket scientist should know.

          • lifelogic
            Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

            I have never claimed to be a rocket scientist but electricity is rather lighter than water and given that the electricity network is already in place it is indeed fairly cheap to more around.

        • zorro
          Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

          I’m sure that Mr Salmond would sell the water to us for a suitable fee in the future. He might even helpbuild the pipe line….having nationalised the water supply first!

          zorro

      • Rebecca Hanson
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        On the constructive side of the blooming obvious may I invite you and others to book holidays in the Lake District? No drought here…..

        Nicol I shall be holidaying in Scotland again. It was heaven last year – swimming in Lochs and getting sunburnt.

        • Bazman
          Posted April 20, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

          Perpetual rain in the Lake district.

  2. Andy Man
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    You mean governments have failed again?
    What a shock. I must go and have a cup of tea to recover.

    • norman
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Irresponsible tea drinking like this is not helping the situation, causing shortages to those supping responsibilty which could raise their stress levels.

      Shouldn’t the government be doing something about this? I would like to see a tea bag tax imposed, a minimum price of £2.50 per cup should make people think twice before enjoying themselves.

      • JimF
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        The answer has to be a tap tax.
        It’s morally repugnant that those with several taps at their disposal can drink and use as much water as they wish in their house, whilst those at the lower end of society have to make do with 2 or 3 taps per house and the odd cistern.

        • lifelogic
          Posted April 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

          Indeed it is clearly “morally repugnant” that rich people do not pay, at the every least, 1000 time more for their water as the poor do. Just as they do for all other public services like bin collections!

        • APL
          Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

          JimF: “The answer has to be a tap tax.”

          How about (asking new migrants to contribute to infrastructure needed?-ed)? Since the water infrastructure is being put under stress because of the number of people it has to support, importing more people must surely put it under greater stress.

          Yes, leaking water mains is a significant problem too.

          But we would do well, to identify what the population growth projections were when the last lot of infrastructure planning was concieved, then measure the population growth against the projections to really see how well (or badly) the water companies have done.

      • libertarian
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

        I have actually invented a new product that is just sensational and will solve this particular problem.

        The waterproof teabag….sorted

  3. James Reade
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Why do you persist with such trite but wholly inappropriate statements like the one you close with John? Did you just ignore everything I said when you made some similar comparison to bakers and bread when the initial drought announcements were being made?

    If you want to compare Easter Egg and turkey production lines with the water industry, the most appropriate comparison is with the bottled water industry. A water utility has to get the water into the taps of millions of homes – an incredibly complicated task with the amount of NIMBYs we have around these days, many of whom you’ve expressed support for in your constituency in this blog – the bottled water firm just needs to get its delivery truck to the store, like Cadburys or whoever gets turkeys to the store.

    Why do you completely ignore obvious points like this which make your supposedly wonderful rhetoric points just meaningless, wrong and misleading?

    Reply: They seem to get your attention!

    • Brian Tomkinson
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      James Reade
      The point is that those other businesses are good at planning and organising their processes whilst the water companies are not. Perhaps it has something to do with the competetive environment in which the former operate compared to the regional water monopolies.

      • James Reade
        Posted April 23, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

        Thanks Brian, I get that. But if you’re going to make comparisons, make them fair ones. As I’ve now said repeatedly, the appropriate comparison is with companies that provide bottled water, not those that have to get it into our taps. That creates fundamental differences and problems, the kind I mention in my post. I’m not going to go over them again thanks.

    • alexmews
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      I think the point here is that bottled water is a competitive industry; mains water is a regulated monopoly. More than that – it seems a poorly regulated monopoly.

      Oftel/ofcom has arguably delivered a better outcome for the consumer in the former public monopoly of telecoms / broadband provision in the UK. What are the barriers to doing the same in water supply?

      As mentioned further down the thread – rationing is the response of a monopolist – whether that be seats on your commuter train, roads, hospital beds, mains water. Thankfully not today bandwidth, bottled water, bread or turkeys.

      • James Reade
        Posted April 23, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

        Hmm, bandwidth is rationed at particular times of day by the infrastructure, but that’s by the by.

        You also miss the point – John is making a misleading comparison. The right comparison is bottled water, which is in a competitive industry and that’s great.

        Water to get into our taps is a different matter all together, and John’s trite carping from the sidelines about how apparently they should have listened to him isn’t particularly helpful when he displays an abject lack of understanding of the market by the example he keeps using.

        Don’t get me wrong – I think a competitive structure is important and getting govt out of the way too – the question is how it’s done and given the nature of getting water into taps, this is important – not something to be solved my trite soundbites from politicians.

        Reply: At least my arresting image got your attention! Do have a sense of proportion- I am glad you actually agree for a change with the main argument I was making!

    • Sebastian Weetabix
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Supplying water is a simple civil engineering task – the Romans could pipe it into houses 2,000 years ago, without the aid of sophisticated computers or even an understanding of the concept of materials being in tension.

      We live in a country which has, on average, 75cm (just under 2’6″!) of rainfall per year. We simply don’t collect enough of it. If you look at Essex the population has more than doubled in the last 60 years, yet the water storage capacity has barely changed.

      I could live with rationing when it was publicly owned and we paid water rates with an under-invested Victorian network. But what we have now is a private monopoly with a spineless regulator who gives them a licence to print money. They don’t invest enough in the network (they have had 20 years to invest after all) – Thames Water loses a third of the water from network leaks – and rather than fix it they have the damned nerve to tell us we should simply not use it. Fine. Where is the reduction in my bill?

      • Timaction
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

        When you allow multi-millions to enter and settle mainly in the south of England without increased infrastructure there will be water shortages. So how about stopping all the immigration and securing our borders by leaving the EU and stopping the issue of student visas to bogus educational institutions, bogus family routes and marriages? The Coalition are still talking about it 2 years AFTER they have been in office.
        Do we also remember the 80% cuts in spending and 20% increases to deal with the structural deficit? So we’ve had the tax increases, what about the cuts? I’ve read that Mr Cameron has actually created more quangos than lost since he entered office (not in power).
        Perhaps you could ask him Mr Redwood?

      • zorro
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

        The Water Industry continues to be a scandal. Such a simple business model with a free resource which only needs an effective collection and distribution mechanism. But still these private monopolies underperform and under invest…enough to give private industry a bad name…..

        zorro

      • Adam5x5
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

        Just a minor point, but I’m pretty sure the Romans knew what tension was – it’s kind of a vital concept for running a sailing boat…

        Also they discovered/invented concrete – one of the best performing materials under compression.

      • APL
        Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

        Sebastian Weetabix: “If you look at Essex the population has more than doubled in the last 60 years, yet the water storage capacity has barely changed.”

        Exactly, and what were the population projections sixty years ago? Did anyone project a doubling of the population back then?

    • stred
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      This reminds me of the philosopher, wife and mikman sketch in Monty Python. Thank goodness my son went didn’t go to Birmingham.

      • stred
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

        Omit went.

      • James Reade
        Posted April 23, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        Thanks Stred. You see, here in Birmingham, we analyse markets in the modules we teach, from first principles. We seek to understand, analyse, and we don’t just assert our prior prejudices.

        We aren’t a perfect institution, but we do our best to teach economics (amongst other things). What we try most of all to do is study the economy without our political glasses on.

    • Caterpillar
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      I suspect alongside JR2’s NIMBY point there are probably ongoing issues of how OFWAT should set price limits in an industry with (supposedly) natural monopolies.

      I think JR1’s point about the requirement for additional storage is correct. A difficulty I suspect is that in many competitive industries the location of suffering in “buffer or suffer” is with the company, and so identification of where/how/whether to buffer has management focus – in water it seems the suffer is located with the end consumer and so the buffer question is not as well investigated.

      Also, although metering has made some difference, the pricing mechanism isn’t driving resource allocation. Since the truck can deliver potable water (JR2), why all the (cap and op) costs involved in fresh (including desalinated) running potable water and not in storage?

      Is OFWAT really getting things right? Can the market structure be changed?
      {More inter-regional pipelines, relocated population + HS2 commute, and whilst such transport infrastructure is being discussed what would allow ideas such as the maglev WATER TRAIN solution to be useful and competitive?}

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

        Perhaps the regulator needs to set new rules. Every month of hosepipe ban imposes a penalty of 5% on gross profits perhaps?

        That will concentrate the minds…

    • JimF
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      So you’ve seen a shortage of bottled water there? Where are you? Mars?

      • James Reade
        Posted April 23, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

        Er no, just go back and read what I wrote and think through it a little.

    • JimF
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      I think the point being made is that when a Corporation offers to supply a product or service then fails to deliver it, that is a business failure, whether it is turkeys, Easter eggs, gas or water. Trying to blame nature for this failure isn’t going to wash, to coin a pun, because there just is no shortage of water, and worse case scenario, you buy cylinders of hydrogen and burn them to get your water made. You might eventually go bust, because you haven’t priced the product correctly, but until then you haven’t let your customer down. That’s what real business is about, not just throwing your hands in the air to the government a la RBS “oh dear we’ve run out of money”, or a la Water industry “oh dear there’s no water”. It’s just a pathetic way to run a serious business.

      • James Reade
        Posted April 23, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

        As I’ve said above repeatedly, the point is that the comparison is invalid because the two industries are completely different in the kind of infrastructure required to get the product in the consumer’s hands. I agree the industry should be competitive, but trite soundbites that are inappropriate isn’t going to help us get there. We have to actually understand the market before we can work out what needs doing to sort it out.

    • Bob
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      @James Reade

      “…like Cadburys or whoever gets turkeys to the store…”

      Do you mean Bernard Matthews?

      • James Reade
        Posted April 23, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

        Well I thought it might be him, but didn’t he die recently?

    • libertarian
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

      Dear James

      Stop “spouting” utter nonsense. The water companies operate a monopoly, the infrastructure that is already in place is poorly maintained yet the companies go on declaring ever increasing profits. They need to be far more competetive and to reinvest in the infrastructure. What the hell have NIMBY’s got to do with it? I’ve never ever heard of people protesting about having water piped to or sewage piped away from their homes. In fact in a previous home when I wanted my home to be connected to mains drainage the water company wanted £35,000 to connect me a total distance of 150 yards.

      • James Reade
        Posted April 23, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        Thanks libertarian. Totally unlike a libertarian to pronounce themselves the utter expert on everything, denouncing everyone else who tries to take an unprejudiced look at things.

        What I’ve written is that the comparison is entirely different between a market where you put a product on a supermarket shelf and people buy, and a market where you have to pipe the product into their house. Not a hard concept to grasp.

        I don’t doubt both can be competitive, and both damn well should. But getting to that point involves understanding all aspects of a market. As a libertarian you don’t believe any government intervention can be of any use at all; we disagree here and we do so because I’m looking at efficiency and seeking to understand the market, whereas you base your decision on a prior prejudice against government.

  4. Acorn
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    That’s the beauty of global warming; more evaporation from the oceans, giving forth to more rain and more importantly, more snow for skiing. Also, more clouds to reflect back heat and UV radiation, from that big yellow ball in the sky. That will stop the snow melting. What could possibly go wrong?

    Virgin Galactic will have scheduled flights to space stations above those clouds, where we will have our summer holidays and get our prescribed dose of sun to generate our vitamin D requirement. (EU regulation ECC/ECHR/2012/QE 3+). Under the clouds the wetness and 600 ppm CO2 will yield Brussels Sprouts the size of cricket balls. Whoopee!

    PS. Somewhere in my archives, I have a paper from the sixties which describes a fleet of nuclear power plants in GB. These to provide electric power to desalinate seawater and split some into hydrogen to replace natural gas – when it ran out. All road and rail transport would be electric, some with lead-acid batteries charged by inductive loops in parking bays. We had big dreams and loads of enthusiasm when we was young in those days; funny how things turn out ain’t it.

    • lifelogic
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      In relation to your PS something similar is not that unlikely it is just a question of costs and what works bests and when. Nuclear energy used to produce hydrogen (or other less volatile gas fuel production) might well be very sensible eventually. I suspect gas or liquid fuelled cars/bikes will be better than battery (unless we have a breakthrough in battery technology) due to range/weight/refuelling times.

  5. lifelogic
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Exactly, more people need more water. The companies have just decided (given the regulatory and cost structures) that they would rather ration it in the summer than build new capacity. They should perhaps charge different rates for more expensive summer water, meter all supplies and build the capacity as needed. The sun and rain provides an endless supply and even desalination is not that expensive if really needed. Grey water systems that use old bath/shower/rain water to flush loos and similar also have their place sometimes.

    In short it is not a problem that cannot solved by a little engineering and a sensible legal and cost framework.

    • Mick Anderson
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      They should perhaps charge different rates for more expensive summer water

      If you take that argument to it’s logical conclusion, there would be an inverse correlation between price and the water level in the reservoir. So, when the water company has lost the winter rainfall through leaks, they can apply price rationing. The worse their performance at fixing the leaks, the higher the unit price.

      Payment for failure is bad enough without increasing the reward for it.

      • lifelogic
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        The price structure clearly needs control given the monopoly but summer water clearly cost more than winter as it has needs more storage capacity. A price incentive not to water lawns in the summer may therefore help.

        • Bob
          Posted April 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

          Most people don’t have meters.

          • lifelogic
            Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

            Indeed there is so little water shortage in many areas they cannot even bother to meters them.

    • lifelogic
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Listening the the sensible Douglas Carswell on the Daily Politics today. I am then presented with the dreadful David Laws. I was struck by how very much David Laws reminds be of Lord Peter Mandelson in almost every way. A slim (word left out) career politician, toe the line and defender of the indefensible Whitehall viewpoint. With similar (issues) which clearly show his true character for all to see.

      It would be (wrong-ed) if he were brought back into government.

  6. Mick Anderson
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    The Public are expected (as ever) to make up the deficit between official planning and reality.

    When Politicians spend more money than can be afforded, they take more away from us in taxes. When they fail to plan for enough water capacity, they ration it. Lack of spaces on commuter trains can be solved by raising the prices beyond affordable, and insufficient road space can be cured by more taxes on fuel and selling the roads to private companies.

    I can see JR writing a post in a few years time relating to electricity rationing, too.

  7. colliemum
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    This water shortage in the SE is not something which struck the Water companies like a bolt from the sky. It has been an ongoing problem, as anybody knows who can think back to summers some more years ago than just the last one.

    It is especially intriguing that the water companies apparently have not planned ahead, because until very recently the Met Office has been a firm predictor of global warming, leading to hotter and drier conditions.
    Oddly enough, local councils believed the Met Office when it came to their winter predictions, and didn’t store sufficient road grit, as we can all attest to who can remember the winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11.
    Or did the water companies think that the last two summers, wash-outs both, are the ‘new norm’? Btw – where did all the water from those rains go?

    It surely is time to haul the water companies before the relevant Select Committee, isn’t it, and ask why the drainage problems haven’t been fixed already, why nothing has been done to provide for the huge influx of people into the SE.
    Perhaps the water companies ought to be forced to become non-profit companies, like Welsh Water?

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Nothing was done about supplying water to the huge influx of people into the SE because officially – and despite what most of us could see – that influx wasn’t happening.

      It’s not happening now either. This is because “We’ve clamped down on immigration from without the EU”

      Phewee ! We’ve narrowly averted being swamped by the disposessed youth of impoverished, riot torn nations. Thanks, Mr Cameron.

      I now believe that many of the Tory privatisations were a disaster. It’s quite clear that they were wrong as to just how badly profiteers would treat our essential utilities.

      Providing water is not the same as producing Easter Eggs. Easter Egg providers don’t have a strangle hold on us.

      Except for Hotel Chocolate. Their eggs are delicious !

      • APL
        Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        Electro-Kevin: “because officially – and despite what most of us could see – that influx wasn’t happening.”

        Water rationing, one of the manifold benefits of unrestricted immigration.

        Apart from the strain on our education system of having to educate children who are barely able to speak English, not to mention having to provide teachers able to speak a dozen different languages.

        Nope, the wonderful benefits of unrestrained immigration are apparent to us all. Except the chatterarti, who go to great lengths to live as far away from the effects of mass immigration as they possibly can.

  8. Atlas
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    On of the problems with dealing with the Global Warming debate is that there are more variables in it than you can shake a stick at. Hence the ease with which claims can be made which ostensibly seem reasonable on their own, yet when taken in conjunction with others, fail an overall consistency test.

    By the way, I use the term Global Warming and not Climate Change, since as a Global Warming Sceptic I am still quite happy to agree that the climate does change over time – for example, the Ice Ages.

  9. Martin Cole
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    I cannot understand how as a sitting MP in the party that has handed our country lock, stock and barrel to Continentals, you can sit down and type this article and never once mention the handing of our water supply industry as a lucrative milch cow to foreigners.

    Where I live in France, over the past few years, road works during the laying of new water mains and storage facilities have been something of a problem for several years, though thankfully now complete. That is where the money from England’s water payments has been spent and while we have suffered a very similar drought here in SW France, we have no rationing – thanks hugely to all you thoroughly treacherous Tory MPs! If you would arrange to take our country with its independence back from the EU, then perhaps many of us, together with our tax payments might return!

    • Sue
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Quite so Martin.

      I lived in a flat in the valleys of the Costa del Sol and my water bill was 10 euro’s a month. I cannot understand why a country as wet as Britain has so many problems with water and why it’s so expensive.

      If I had bought a small holding finca in Spain, I could have dug my own well for 12,000 euros and had a free supply of fresh mountain spring water, forever!

  10. Sue
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    That’s what happens when you flog our utilities off to foreigners. They don’t give a damn about the service we get or the price we pay. The rest of Europe aren’t particularly enamoured with Britain, especially the French. If they can make us suffer, they will do so, at any opportunity.

    The government need to implement much stricter regulations about service levels or the company owning the vital service forfeits it’s ownership and it’s re-nationalised.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      x2

      I don’t think anyone would have supported privatisation if they’d seen how it has turned out.

      This situation is nothing short of insane.

      • davidb
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

        I agree completely on that point, however we allowed ourselves to be convinced that privatised services would all run like the best businesses. The reality was merely we swapped owners from a useless benign state to rapacious private landlords. Almost all the privatisations have led to higher prices and little service improvement , but higher executive salaries and poor accountability.

        I suspect the reason for the privatisations was more to do with the EC wanting to remove state companies from markets ( though how as ever the French get away with it is strange ), rather than any real desire to improve public services.

    • zorro
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

      I suppose that is why the Germans, French and Spanish are rather touchy about losing control of their own such assets….

      zorro

  11. BernieInPipewell
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    John

    Nothing to disagree with in this post.

    The government is too busy with meat pies and cigarette packaging to worry about the minor things in life, water, power, ect.

    EU involved somewhere?

    Bernie

    • APL
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      BernieInPipewell: “EU involved somewhere? ”

      British politicians are reduced to taking the blame for everything, it has two beneficial effects for them.

      1. When you can only choose one of two, (the Liberals don’t matter much) it’s just a matter of ‘buggins turn’, so if your party is unpopular because of implementing the EU directive on, for example mass surveillance of the population, then the other party benefits. When the other party is reelected, your party benefits from the unpopular EU initiatives the governing party implements.

      2. It maintains the facade of having influence, when in reality the Westminster circus is just a sock and puppet show. Very lucrative for the bit part players, but a sham none the less.

  12. Robert K
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Perfect commentary, thank you.
    Near to where I live plans for a £1bn reservoir (the Hanney/Steventon development) have been ditched because of the impact on the local environment . The wrangling has been going on for years, so a new approach is also needed on the planning front.

  13. English Pensioner
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Instead of the “conservatory tax” the government should be insisting that all new buildings use re-cycled water to flush the toilets, as used in many countries like parts of Australia.
    Rainwater, together with water from showers, dishwashers, etc, is fed to a buried storage tank. A small electric pump feeds this to a header tank in the loft from which it is available to flush the toilets, wash the car, water the garden, etc. Approximately a third of the water we use goes “straight down the pan”, so it is a considerable saving.

  14. stred
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    The main problem with reservoirs and other infrastructure is planning and nimbys. In France they just build them and enjoy the bathing and boating. Here the legal fees cost more than the engineering.

    I suggested, before, the possibility of using mega tankers to tranport water down the east coast, slowly, with minimum fuel consumption, to the SE. Surely this would be more efficient than desalination? Any engineers comments?

  15. merlin
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Anthropogenic Global Warming is the one of the biggest ever con tricks of all time, there is absolutley no substance to it whatsoever. There is natural global warming which is perfectly normal, I think the planet has warmed about 0.8 degrees in the last period of time in which the measurements have been taken. We are probably now in for a period of global cooling which unfortunately is going to last until 2040.Interestingly there has been no global warming since 1998 and unbelievably future government green spending is based on junk science which has never been proven, think of the savings on energy that could have been made if this government had taken no notice of global warming.
    One aspect of the water shortage is that there has been a recent EU directive requiring all water companies to spend millions of pounds to ensure that water quality is of the required standard, the result of this is that water companies have not had enough money left to fix the leaks in pipes carrying water so this has contributed to the present water shortage, I don’t recall this government ever referring to this directive recently.
    All this shows once again is that this country is governed and controlled by the EUSSR and not by the present administration.

    • uanime5
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      So despite water companies making several billion pounds of profit they don’t have enough money to replace their pipes? More likely that they have no incentive to fix them.

      • Bob
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        @uanime5

        Correct.

  16. merlin
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I was pleased recently to see that shale gas extrtaction is on the way to being approved, the sooner the better, another way of ensuring we have cheaper energy in the future and of course opposed by the green movement. Shale gas has existed in the USA for 10 years and has reduced the price of natural gas considerably.

  17. Richard1
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Presumably this poor foresight by the water companies is a function of their being monopolies, even though now private. Do you have a view as to how we could force more competition so there is a fear of personal financial consequences (ie loss of business) to ensure better service?

  18. Vimeiro
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    It’s not just water, the entire infastructure of the South East is at breaking point because government has decreed that new homes need to be built all over the area.

    My local doctor’s had no appointments left for today after 8:30 this morning. Their phone lines only opened at 8. Just another example of government shortsightedness. All they’re interested in is the short term growth from property developers, selling overpriced houses.

    • rose
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      And we in the South West are next in line for the consequences of reckless overpopulation. 1,000 primary school places short already in Bristol where the roads are frequently grid-locked and the birthrate still soaring. It isn’t just water we are short of, but space. No amount of forward planning can rectify that. And still they come. Not just refugees from the rest of the world, but British refugees from London and the South East as well.

  19. JimF
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Spot on.
    It’s all down to planning, and we don’t do that very well here.
    Germans would, I think, laugh at the English being short of water, and would ask if the problem was worst in Manchester.
    Why not have some sort of government incentive scheme for rain harvesting systems? It’d give work to the construction sector on a local basis. Is that too sensible?

    • Bob
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      I’ve just installed a 300 gallon rainwater tank for my garden, but if things get desperate I suppose it would be okay for making tea after filtering and boiling. Maybe even better than the chemically treated stuff that we get from the tap.

      OFWAT is a joke, but not a very funny one.

    • lifelogic
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      We are not short of water it is just that the water companies think it is cheaper (for them) to pretend we are. Rather than build the storage and distribution needed. The governments indoctrination of the population with global warming helps their cause (even though warmer means more rain in general).

      • uanime5
        Posted April 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        Care to explain why warmer doesn’t mean more rain in the Sahara desert or Saudi Arabia?

        • lifelogic
          Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

          Indeed there is little precipitation at the cost north pole either we are talking of averages.

          In general warmer mean more water vapour picked up in the air and more precipitation. It also mean less energy need to heat our houses.

        • lifelogic
          Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

          Indeed there is little precipitation at the north pole either – Obviously we are talking of averages.

          In general warmer mean more water vapour picked up in the air and more precipitation. It also mean less energy need to heat our houses.

          Good is it not?

  20. waramess
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    This is one of the few instances where government intervention is necessary.

    Regulate to ensure the dividend payments represent no more than a reasonable utility should be paying an investor and introduce a robust requirement to ensure that existing infrastructure is properly maintained and that new infrastructure ensures the provision of water is adequate.

    Hose-pipe bans should never be considered but instead massive fines should be imposed on water companies who fail to deliver and should be used to employ others to do the job.

    That 25 percent of all water piped is still lost through leaks should tell us something about the stewardship of our water supplies.

    • uanime5
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      In Victorian times there were statutory companies which were only allowed keep 10% of their profits as profits and the rest had to be invested back into the business. Perhaps a similar type of company is needed for public utility companies.

  21. alan jutson
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Why we are still building on flood planes in the south east, when this is the area of water shortage.

    Years ago it was published (and common knowledge) that the south east needed more water capacity if it was going to continue to build more homes in the area.

    See that we have had severe weather (flood risks) for some areas published today.

    Perhaps we need some joined up thinking for a joined up national water supply from those areas of plenty, to those areas of need.

    Investment in infrastructure and at the same time creating worthwhile jobs ?

  22. Liz
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Pictures shown around the world of British people queuing at stand pipes for water, like medeaval peasants at the village well, as may well happen, will certainly do nothing to show that this is a modern country open for business – quite the reverse. Allowing the utitlity companies to be sold to foreign companies has been an absolute disaster and whatever EU rules say something all other European countries have managed to prevent in their own countries.
    The Government needs to put pressure on the water companies to invest in new storage facilities which have remained unchanged for decades. There are plenty of things the Goernment could do but as usual they seem to lack to will to do anything. With more people pouring into the country every day matters will only get worse.

  23. Dan
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    If you have ever wondered what a face of pure incredulity looks like go to a place like Dubai where they have plentiful fresh water and tell them that in England, an island surrounded by water and famous for being rained on constantly suffers from frequent droughts.

  24. Martin
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Isn’t the real problem that the politicians have never had the will to make metering compulsory? Flat rate ancient property taxes are pretty rubbish at assessing water use. We all expect to pay for Gas & Electricity by what we use. I fail to see why water is different.

    • Bazman
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      Have you got a water meter? Just wait until the great water meter scam unfolds and you will see why it is a bad idea. The prices will be put up the restrict supply with no investment.

  25. Edward.
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Blimey John, well said.

  26. Denis Cooper
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    More people require more infrastructure in general.

    At one time the government actively, and successfully, promoted family planning through the NHS, to reduce the problems which would arise from population growth.

    Then later the government decided that the established population had produced too few children, so it would arrange to import other people’s children from abroad.

    I call that not only folly but betrayal of all those natives who’d responded to the urgings of their government by deliberately limiting their family sizes.

  27. HJBBradders
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Yet, they tell us that house-holders use only about 8% of the total water supply. Can this really be true? If it is, what about some economy from the users of the other 92%?

  28. Badgerbill
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    To put in place a hose pipe ban is a serious reflection on the management in this country. The water companies have a duty to supply water therefore the government should task them with sorting the problem out through a national grid. More important than taxing us into the ground with pasty taxes and such like! Boys trying to do a man’s job!

    Why do MP’s not speak up instead of sitting on their hands! No wonder the population holds parliament in such contempt and makes it harder for those who support the party at local level

    • Bob
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      @Badgerbill

      National Grid?

      Thame Water should sort out the leaks first, as a priority.
      No bonus for the execs until leakages are reduced to less than 10%.

      13 years of Labour followed by 5 years of Liberal Tory coalition should just about finish us off as a nation.

  29. Mike Fowle
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    I was reading Nigel Lawson’s comments about water privatisation. Worth looking at. I felt uneasy about it, but the water authorities themselves wanted to be freer of Treasury control. I suspect the true story about the hosepipe ban is more complicated and obscured. I strongly suspect the environmental movement of corrupting the process – otherwise I believe the water companies would have got on and constructed more reservoirs/pipelines or desalination plants – whatever was the best engineering solution. Now we find companies like Essex Water talking about being proud to have an unwashed car or Anglian Water with their drop 20 campaign – use 20 litres less a day. What commercial sense is this? They should be increasing supply and their consequent revenue. Shareholders to vote no confidence?

    • uanime5
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Why increase your supply when you can charge more for what you currently have because more people want it?

  30. Tom William
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    All new houses, except perhaps in the wettest regions of Scotland, should have to have underground water storage tanks from which rainwater (off the roof )could be pumped for non drinking purposes.

    • Single Acts
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:43 am | Permalink

      How much would this cost? Would it make houses more affordable? How much water would it save as a percentage of annual national consumption? What would be the probably repair costs when the tanks started leaking and who would bear the costs? What would happen if householders just decided to abort the costs and reconnected to the grid? How would you stop this?

      • Tom William
        Posted April 20, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        Why should underground metal tanks leak? They would remain connected to the grid but would use rainwater for baths/showers/toilets/gardens, thus saving money. Should the tanks run dry they would switch evrything back to the grid.

  31. uanime5
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Until there are laws requiring water companies to hold a set amount of water per person these companies will not improve their capacity.

  32. Leslie Singleton
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Any good asking why there shouldn’t be tax relief for expenditure on rain water tanks and the like to catch the rain as it falls instead of letting it just drain away?

  33. sm
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Population growth, compared with new resovoir capacity.

    All these extra social costs add up, i suspect a lot of them were not factored in any rational joined up planning by government- mainly because it would have let the cat out of the bag on an unpopular policy.

    So keep it secret and also tell everyone they are ist if they raise any queries.

    Still waiting for Tesco/Asda to update us on their population estimates, so we can compare with the official numbers!

    • zorro
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      Last one from Tesco in 2007 was about 77 million currently resident in the UK….

      zorro

  34. Steven Whitfield
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    John,
    I welcome your acknowledgement that unsustainable immigration to the South East has been partly responsible for water shortages. However your simple economics based analysis seems flawed to me.

    Pretending that we simply need to ‘order extra capacity’ will only stimulate demand..it also won’t help your fellow Mp’s wake up to the seriousness of the population problem.
    While we are at it why not ‘order’ about another 1ooo miles of new roads, a few new city’s, a couple of airports and maybe 10 new hospitals for starters. If only it was that easy!

    But this head in the sand stance has been the position of the British government for the last 50 years. Somehow, sometime in the not too distant future the situation will have to change – the longer it is left the harder it becomes.

    The only long term solution is to keep population growth at sustainable levels – anything else is just sticking a plaster over the problem and leaving the issue to a future government.

    I remember sending out a press statement years ago when we won the Olympic bid saying that if we did not build another reservoir in the south we would be welcoming people to the Olympics with water rationing in place JR

    If you advocate increasing water storage capacity John , I think it is only fair that you decide which rivers should be further exploited and which areas of outstanding natural beauty should be flooded if this is your wish.

    Then explain what we should do when this extra capacity has been exhausted ?. Or explain how the conflict between water storage and housing development can be resolved if capacity building is the answer ?

    Or perhaps you believe that water capacity can be increased at no environmental cost ?

    There is plenty of rain, even in the south. We do not collect enough of it, and we do not have good enough delivery systems once captured JR

    I’m sure there is also enough wind and sunlight out there to supply the UK with ample electricity. But there is the question of how much can be economicaly captured without causing environmental mayhem. It’s the same issue with water supply that you seem to keep glossing over.

    To believe that the provision of water bears any relation to the provision of Turkeys or Easter eggs is just fantasy. The cost of increasing water provision goes up exponentially in no proportion to the revenue generated – not so with turkeys or eggs.

  35. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    The law of supply and demand is a wonderful thing. Do the southern water companies not realise that they can raise charges to finance the necessary investments? Or would the regulator stop them?

    • uanime5
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Given that water companies can raise charges without doing any necessary investments I doubt the regulators will stop them raising charges if they promise to make necessary investments.

  36. backofanenvelope
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    There is a shortage of primary school places in the south east. There is a shortage of water in the south east. These two things have something in common and we all know what it is. The government is importing a quarter of a million extra people every year. Just stop doing that and it will all be easier to rectifiy.

  37. Steven Whitfield
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I welcome your acknowledgement that unsustainable immigration to the South East has been partly responsible for water shortages. However the simple economics based analysis seems flawed to me.

    Pretending that we simply need to ‘order extra capacity’ is not a sensible solution to the problem.

    While we are at it why not ‘order’ about another 1ooo miles of new roads, a few new city’s, a couple of airports and maybe 10 new hospitals for starters. If only it was that easy!

    But this kind of head in the sand world without limits stance has been the position of the British government for the last 50 years. Somehow, sometime in the not too distant future the situation will have to change – the longer it is left the harder it becomes.

    The only long term solution is to keep population growth at sustainable levels – anything else is just sticking a plaster over the problem and leaving the issue to a future government.

    I remember sending out a press statement years ago when we won the Olympic bid saying that if we did not build another reservoir in the south we would be welcoming people to the Olympics with water rationing in place JR

    If you advocate increasing water storage capacity Mr Redwood , I think it is only fair that you express an opinion on which rivers should be further exploited and which areas of outstanding natural beauty should be flooded.

    Then there is the tricky matter of what we should do when all this extra capacity has been exhausted ?.
    Or perhaps you believe that water capacity can be increased at no environmental cost ?

    There is plenty of rain, even in the south. We do not collect enough of it, and we do not have good enough delivery systems once captured JR

    I’m sure there is also enough wind and sunlight out there to supply the UK with ample electricity. But there is the question of how much can be economicaly captured without causing environmental mayhem. It’s the same issue with water supply that you seem to keep glossing over.

    To believe that the provision of water bears any relation to the provision of Turkeys or Easter eggs is just fantasy in my view. The cost of increasing water provision goes up exponentially in no proportion to the revenue generated – not so with turkeys or eggs.

    • Bazman
      Posted April 24, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      Maybe if the same amount of subsidy was thrown at personal water conservation and capture as dubious solar energy the problem would be much smaller. My electricity bill is about £600 a year and my water bill last year was £500. Much cheaper and low tech to collect rainwater than sunlight.

  • 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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