25 Jul 2010

Wessex Water meeting:

As regular blog readers will know I sit on the Customer Liaison Panel of Wessex water on behalf of Stroud District Council. There are 3 or 4 meetings each year and one of those was this week - a day off work and a trip to Bath. You can click on the Wessex Water label below to catch up with the issues I have raised.

Photo: pics from visit

This blog will not cover the contents of the meeting as there is far too much to say - but a bit of a taster and hopefully pick up on some of the issues previously covered and whether we are in a drought...well some 35 or so of us assembled and first up was the Executive Chair's report which he delivered in style - Colin Skellett has much to be pleased about - service and performance standards all put Wessex Water first (or a couple of times second) in the industry.

I've covered the Price Review Outcome before but here's a summary of what they plan in next 5 years - improved security of supply by building a grid, cutting leakage by a further 5%, water quality improved for over 100,000 customers, installing advanced sludge treatment to generate green energy and cut carbon by 32,000 tonnes, solutions to 500 homes re flooding and better bathing and river waters.

Various issues were raised by Colin - one I was interested in was the move Wessex would like to see towards longer investment programmes - the current 5 year plans are ridiculous - I did seek assurances that longer plans would still be flexible to take account of new info re climate change or energy security - while Wessex have a plan I am not convinced other companies are as well along that road.

Indeed one of the other presentations from Wessex was their report on climate change adaptation for Defra - it looked for example at the impact of more frequent and intense storms and the drier summers - the sewer floodings, increased pollution, the growth of unwanted micro-organisms/algae in reservoirs, siltation of sewers, more flooding of buildings etc. I asked about how they were integrating the info from this report into their practice - again it is clear it is influencing and supporting their current strategy.

Another issue that is on the cards is how the current system encourages companies to build their own resources - there needs to be a way to encourage more sharing of resources - indeed the whole system is a nonsense whereby it is harder for a water company to merge with another water company than it is for a company that has no water interests - of course there are concerns re monopolies but some mergers would clearly benefit and provide more sustainable supplies of our water.

The current regulatory regime inhibits companies from generating renewable energy - an issue I've covered before - Wessex wants to become carbon neutral but such regulations make it difficult. Similarly sludge digesters could be used more widely - for domestic organic waste. While I am often fearful when there is talk of burning up the red tape and regulations there are clearly here examples of where it needs to occur. Regulations have often been brought in to tackle a particular problem - just to cut them is not the answer - certainly look at their functioning....but hey I'm getting off topic - I learnt that wind turbine prices have increased by 30% in recent years due to strength of pound and overseas demand for turbines - see my post here this week on renewables....anyhow at least the government are getting rid of similar regulations that stop councils from generating renewable energy...

Some interesting suggestions from Wessex included merging Ofgem and Ofwat, combining the Environment Agency with Natural England and making the Drinking Water Inspectorate part of teh food Standards Agency - well the later is unlikely as the Food Agency looks set to go completely - I'm not sure about the EA but certainly there is room for strengthening certain roles.

It looks like there will be a Biodiversity Bill fairly early in parliament - now at first I would welcome this but I have dreadful suspicions that it is not going to be the direction we want - already there is alot of emphasis on farming - and farming that is not particularly sustainable - but lets hope I am proved wrong!

Well there were also a number of issues raised regarding planning legislation - the ridiculous infrastructure charges that means new developments pay about £250 per development instead of the real costs of £1,200 - a way of subsidising housing developments - but why should existing customers end up footing the bill??? More of this in another post soon. Water companies should also be mandatory consultees....

We also had a brief discussion on Pitt - again an issue previously covered on this blog - sadly it has not resolved the SUDS issue. We do need leadership on this. There were other presentations on customer services - again Wessex is a leader so not much to say otherthan they are top and working to improve further. One other talk was a look at Waste Management - not the sludge stuff but everything else - the biggest part - some 80% - being the stuff they dig out of the road to lay pipes or fix leaks etc - they are looking at every step to see how this can be minimised - all impressive stuff.

So have we got a drought? Can we expect hosepipe bans in the Wessex region? In short no - some of teh northern water companies already have hosepipe bans but while reservoirs have dropped they are reasonable compared to other years, ground water storage is also OK as are rivers - the rivers are drier but not exceptional. This is not like 1995 or 1975/6 - also leakage rates have improved significantly.

Hey OK this is a bit of a ramble but happy to talk if folk have a particular interest.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Undoubtedly Wessex Water are one of the better water companies - but still apparently obfuscating behind the woolly "climate change /scarcity /commoditisation /etc" Myth. (As we might expect of an organisation that is beholden to shareholders rather than its customers).

If we are quickly going to fix flooding & drought we have to be much clearer about the real causes, primarily a lack of any planning to properly restore the hydrological cycle and the terrestrial causes here. A student level of understanding, yet largely ignored, (or even misrepresented)...

... that extremes in rainfall, amplified by such human disruption of the natural hydrological cycle are the primary causes of flood & drought, namely through degraded natural environments - Urbanisation & Industrialised Agriculture causing accelerated run-off, lack of infiltration to aquifers & increased evaporation intensifying rainfall.

Reducing atmospheric CO2 should be a priority too - though this is not presently a significant cause of increased flood & drought; the above factors are, and atmospheric CO2 reduction is implicit with the appropriate solutions.

Addressing these correctly in the landscape can enable at least a doubling of food productivity & an enablement of huge renewable energy resources - amongst a range of presently lost Ecological Capital and abundance, not least of water – effectively everywhere.

In the Stroud Valleys this lost capital amounts minimally to £10million annually. The suggestion of ever greater & more concentrated Regulation is unlikely to bring quick results – empowering communities and local expertise will.