18 Oct 2008

Have you any issues with Wessex Water?

Wessex Water leading the way, slug pellets in the water, Credit Crunch and more

Well still a few little coughs and splutters but am over the worst and been back at work this week after a day and a half missed last week - and last weekend in bed but hey let's put that behind us...

Photos: rather poor snaps of the amazing Wessex Water building that has many features to minimise energy use incl use rain water for the loos - it was built on the site of an old hospital reusing the materials

A couple of Council meetings this week but the one this post is about is the one in Bath - I took a day of annual leave so that I could travel down there for the Customer Liaison Panel for Wessex Water - I was recently appointed as Stroud District Council's representative on the Panel and as blog readers will know I have a particular interest in water issues and promoting more sustainable use of water - not least the crusade to bring more SUDs but also having founded both the Safe Water Campaign for Gloucestershire and the Ruscombe Brook Action Group (RBAG).

Customer Liaison Panel

Photo: wonderful open 'street' with cafe runs through the middle of the building

The Panel is the chance to raise questions and this was my first meeting and I was the only councillor to submit three formal questions - more of those in another post as they are ongoing issues I'd like to cover in a bit more depth re water meters, pumping up from bore-holes and SUDs. Anyhow I am now asking members of the public and businesses if there are any issues they would like raising at the thrice annual meeting of the panel - I have drafted a press release as well to go to the Gazette as I hope to reach more than just the blog readers here.

The Panel also received a number of presentations on on-going work including a look at customer satisfaction records, trade waste effluent, the new draft Business Plan (that I will comment on before the closing date) and the state of reservoirs - pretty well all more full than at any other time since records began for this time of year - a very wet wet wet summer.

Wessex Water are leaders in the field

In fact Wessex Water are tops when it comes to water companies - this year they celebrated being the first water company to gain the hugely coveted and prestigious The Queen's Awards for Enterprise for Sustainable Development. Nevertheless there are always going to be issues to raise and Wessex seem genuinely to be striving for improvements. If there are issues I am happy to take them to the next Customer Liaison Panel. As always do please contact me at cllr.Philip.Booth@stroud.gov.uk or on 01453 755451.

Wessex Water is owned by a Malaysian company and covers 10,000 square kilometres of south west England including Dorset, Somerset, Bristol and Bath, most of Wiltshire and parts of Gloucestershire and Hampshire. They serve 1.3 million drinking water consumers and provide sewage services for 2.6 million - but not to me or most in Stroud area - that is Severn Trent - and as an aside I have been trying to see ways that we can encourage that company to increase democratic involvement. They have been more forthcoming of late - since the floods - but this is still an area they could improve significantly!

Paying your bills - excellent scheme for financial difficulties

Photo: Control centre behind a whole host of measures like bullet proof glass!

Another area that Wessex Water is a leader in the field - and I wont list them all otherwise this will be like an ad for them - is the way they manage customers who are genuinely struggling to afford to pay their water bills. There is no question that with the Credit Crunch more people will have difficulties. The earlier people contact Wessex Water the easier it is to set up the best tariff and payment option.

One scheme that I am particularly interested in is the fact that they have a number of special tariffs like their "Assist" tariff for customers in extreme financial difficuties. Wessex pay some £250,000 plus to Citizens Advice Bureau's (see here) - helping to fund debt advice agencies in this way means customers can continue to get free advice and best advice - many customers are not aware of the full range of benefits and tax credits that are available. As well as offering debt advice, agencies can also ensure customers are claiming all of the benefits to which they are entitled.

This makes great sense and I will see what potential we have for bringing more of that to Gloucestershire with other companies.

Slug pellets in the water?

No don't worry it is not in our water. However Durleigh reservoir near Bridgewater was recently found to have 4 times the recommended limit of metaldehyde in drinking water - carbon filters can remove some but not enough so the reservoir was immediately taken out of service with no risks no public. Working with other agencies the source has been identified - no doubt due to the heavy rains this summer leading to more use of slug pellets - work is now being done with farmers to improve the situation - indeed in the Panel meeting there was general agreement that farmers are very keen to work with others to solve such problems - roll on more Catchment Sensitive farming where such issues are looked at - it costs millions to remove pesticides etc from water....a couple of years ago I read that water companies spend up to £313 million a year dealing with nitrates, pesticides and other contaminants (10% of the costs of supplying drinking water). We are long overdue a time when Defra should be giving incentives to farmers to produce food in a way that works for water, wildlife and landscape.

Anyway it is only recently that water companies are testing for metaldehyde - and clearly it is a national problem - and I welcome Wessex Water's openness about this - it is certainly no Camelford - interestingly the concentrations don't seem to go down with the water sitting in the reservoir so it seems that it may have to be let out slowly - I am told this will not effect fish etc.

Regular blog readers will know of my concerns about pesticides in our environment (see for example here re cancer) - every year we hear reports on pesticides exceeding limits or banned pesticides being found in food - the Government is far too slow in acting to ensure foods do not contain cocktails of pesticides and ensuring that safety limits are not breached. We need to reduce pesticide use not just because of health risks but also because it is fossil fuel based - organic farming can feed the world - see here. Greens in Europe have raised many of these issues - especially Caroline Lucas in the EU - and while we have lost Mark Purdey campaigning on pesticides we still have at least the extraordinary Georgina Downs who is particularly campaigning on the spraying of pesticides.

What else? Energy efficiencies going ahead

Well already this post is longer than intended so I think I'll leave other stuff for future posts - otherthan to mention that we may worry about our energy bill but theres is going from £19 million to £27 million! What with all the pumping of water, chemicals and energy-intensive ultra-violet treatment, the water-industry is the most energy-intensive utility (some estimate 2.6% of UK carbon emissions). See more here about our water footprint. Anyway Wessex already have in place energy saving measures, site audits and CHP using sewage sludge plus they hope to build some turbines - although at the moment it seems the Government aren't letting them - more of that when I learn more.

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