10 Jun 2010

Do water companies take too much water from rivers?

I recently had the chance to skim the study, 'Riverside Tales', by WWF about water companies abstracting too much water.

Photo: Ruscombe Brook

WWF are arguing that out-of-date licensing rules mean water companies are taking too much water from rivers and threatening local ecosystems. They have called for action from the Environment Agency to revoke some licences and for more info to customers about the impact of water extraction on the river ecosystem.

The report shows that the Itchen (Portsmouth way) was found to be a successful example of good water management with plans to install water meters throughout the region to help protect against over-abstraction. However the report suggests a third of river catchments are threatened by excessively high abstraction levels - particularly when rainfall is low.

Well as I sit on the Customer Liaison Panel of Wessex Water it seemed right that I should raise this issue with them. I should note that Wessex does have some info on the website re low flow rivers and at previous Liaison Panel meetings has discussed abstraction policies. They have done a lot of work with the EA on abstraction licences, particularly in their sensitive river areas and have given up 23,000,000 litres of abstraction licence going forward from 2010.

I understand from them that they have been able to do this because of their work on water conservation and leakage reduction. They are also developing a grid - mentioned previously on this blog (see here) - to ensure abstraction for public water supply does not unduly affect rivers.

WWF are doing the right thing in keeping up awareness, but there is a wider debate about what we want as a society? Protecting our rivers yet still providing the water society demands. Its up to politicians to strike the right balance between societal demands and environmental needs and protection - with of course the good science to back up their decision making process.

Yet in politics we sadly seem to respond to the latest issue raised by the media or public - see for example the discussion about Combined Sewage Overflows here - we end up looking at one area rather than looking at the whole picture. One bit of government promoting one thing and another bit rejecting it.....

Metering would be very valuable to reduce abstraction from rivers - the EA also values it - but, it was rejected by OFWAT as not being cost effective. The investment assessment they use is very narrow. Wessex Water have pushed hard for metering as my previous blogs have shown so it is hard to lay blame just with water companies....

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