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.