6 Jul 2011

Water extraction damaging rivers

Frome near Stonehouse
The Independent on Sunday had an article noting a study says extraction from our rivers by water companies is causing harm; "causing environmental damage, death to wildlife and the build-up of chemicals that upset fragile aquatic ecosystems". Even before the dry spring demands have caused water levels to drop. Indeed a year ago I raised this issue on this blog - see here.

The report by by Dr Simon Less, a former director of Ofwat, says that current abstraction by firms from rivers and groundwater sources is so high that it would take the equivalent of 23 million people to stop using water every day to get back to environmentally sustainable levels. Without action current practices will cause "serious damage to river and wetland ecologies". Only 15 per cent of the country's river network is in a condition to support a "healthy ecosystem".

A White Paper to be published in November is expected to propose smart metering in homes. Of course more charges for abstraction could mean higher bills for consumers. Already average water bills are set to rise by around 4.6 per cent to £356 this year. Click on read more to see more incl recent Green party news release re low income households and water.

The report says the "cheapest sources of water are generally exploited first" – with many water companies using rivers and boreholes close to infrastructure, regardless of how low the levels are, rather than reservoirs further away, which is more expensive to transport. See Independent article here.

This is clearly the consequences of failing to properly implement either traditional, common sense or even the  “holistic approach to water management - mitigating the effects of floods and droughts” as required by the Water Framework Directive. It seems that vested interests; water companies, agrochemical companies, energy companies and apparently even regulators all have an interest in maintaining this situation and ignoring the low cost solutions that can guarantee UK water, food and energy security.

Just a couple of weeks ago the Green Party called for 'intelligent thinking on water reform'. In the light of DEFRA's water affordability consultation, the Green Party voiced its support for a government re-think on its regressive water policy, and for a replacement strategy designed to support those struggling to pay their water bills. It seems extraordinary that government's are incapable of long-term thinking - it is the same with their energy policy.

Proposed changes endorsed by the Green Party would provide well directed support for low-income households and disadvantaged families. However, such changes must also look to preserve long term sustainability - we need a comprehensive remodelling of the UK's water consumption. Per capita, the UK's water consumption is higher than any other European nation's, and continues to rise - and we can see from the start of this blog how damaging that already is to the environment.

In our press release the Green Party has called for innovative policy changes, such as giving 50%
of water per child to needy families for free, rather than at a 20% discount. This would be run in parallel with schemes incentivising relevant corporations to distribute free water-saving devices and advice, in order to offset and reverse any subsequent increases in water consumption. The government should also require all new housing to be equipped with facilities for rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling. Greens also called for water companies themselves to fund the WaterSure scheme, drawing attention to the responsibility that any company has when it holds an effective monopoly in a service as fundamental as clean water provision and dirty water management.

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