By all means protect water resources, but don’t soak the poor to do it

Hosepipe bans are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the severity of the UK’s potential water shortages.

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The government needs to take “decisive and prompt action” to guarantee the UK’s water security according to a major new report from the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE).

HosepipeIn the report, ICE says the recent droughts have been a ‘wake up call’ for the UK but the urgency and severity of the UK’s potential water shortages are still not properly understood. It rates our current water security as “level 4” on a 1-10 scale.

Chair of the ICE water panel, Michael Norton, said:

“We are a populous nation facing a growing gap between what we can supply and what our water users need. Sadly it’s only when hose-pipe bans are inflicted on us that the public has any glimpse of this reality.

“Commonly thought of ‘rainy’ areas won’t be like that in the future – rainfall will be more varied, both in terms of time and location – so relying on very large reservoirs in only one or two places will no longer be effective.”

The report recommends building more smaller reservoirs and a renewed effort to conserve water in the home by introducing compulsory water meters.

ICE argues that with the UK population expected to increase by 10 million by 2035 urgent action is needed, however it calculates that with the proper measures, security of supply can be “out of danger – at water security level 8 or 9” – by 2025.

The report also warns that “the single biggest problem” in securing water supplies is cost, or “the low value we place on water”.

Norton added:

“The UN has rightly stated that water for health and hygiene is a human right and should be affordable to the whole of society, but it makes up only a small proportion of our direct water use (less than 15%). Everything else is discretionary and should be charged as such.”

Translation? Charge the public more for water services.


See also:

After months of denial, an admission flood defences face massive cuts 14 Feb 2011

Why don’t Clegg and Cameron think clean water and sanitation are human rights? 5 Aug 2010

Water dilemma 9 Jul 2010


While ICE’s expertise in engineering solutions to the changing water fall patterns we face is beyond reproach, the social impact of its recommendations raise real questions.

Earlier this year the Joseph Rowntree Trust warned that up to four million people are already in danger of falling into water poverty – defined as households spending more than 3 per cent of their income on water.

Rather than penalising poorer households by charging for consumption, the underlying problem is that 20 million water customers already experiencing hosepipe ban in ‘water stressed’ areas are mainly clustered in southern and eastern England – where there is substantially less rainfall to begin with.

Unfortunately, these also tend to be the more economically dynamic parts of the country with growing populations.

Any strategic solution to protecting water security therefore needs to explore ways of rebalancing our economy to take pressure away from those parts of the country with limited natural resources.

It also means water companies, the Environment Agency and industry regulator Ofwat need to become better at predicting and reacting to weather and population changes. Also, our planning system needs reforming so we build key infrastructure where it is needed most.

In a curious quirk of scheduling, the Environment Agency also waded into the discussion about water resources today. The agency revealed that rivers, reservoirs and groundwater sources have recovered following record rainfall in April and early May which may lead to an earlier lifting of hosepipe bans in those water-stressed areas where they are currently in operation.

A final decision is expected before the end of the month.


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21 Responses to “By all means protect water resources, but don’t soak the poor to do it”

  1. Angus Carruthers

    By all means protect water resources, but don’t soak the poor to do it, writes @KevinPMeagher:

  2. Kevin Meagher

    RT @leftfootfwd: By all means protect water resources, but don’t soak the poor to do it

  3. Political Planet

    By all means protect water resources, but don’t soak the poor to do it: Hosepipe bans are just the tip of the ic…

  4. leftlinks

    Left Foot Forward – By all means protect water resources, but don’t soak the poor to do it

  5. BevR

    RT @leftfootfwd: By all means protect water resources, but don’t soak the poor to do it

  6. Orpington Labour

    By all means protect water resources, but don’t soak the poor to do it, writes @KevinPMeagher:


    By all means protect water resources, but don’t soak the poor to do it, writes @KevinPMeagher:

  8. Katherine Smith

    Left Foot Forward – By all means protect water resources, but don’t soak the poor to do it

  9. Anonymous

    That’s the plan isn’t.

    Same as the plan with fuel and CO2.

    Tax tax and more tax.

    Fuel poverty, mandated by the state.

  10. Anonymous

    State? The PRIVATE COMPANIES involved are making record profits.

  11. Anonymous

    “compulsory water meters”

    Hammering the poor, who tend to live in higher density housing. You introduce this, we will have to introduce water rationing in the house. No flushing for only urine, time limits on showers. Otherwise, the bills will soar dramatically, defeating the entire point of living together in the first place.

    The real answer is to put pipelines between areas which have sufficient rainfall and other areas, combined with direct fines on profits for water loss.

  12. Blarg1987

    Interesting read although it is a shame that renationalisation has not come up as a solution to manage the future water requirements of the UK throuhg a long term programme.
    Question is why has this not be raised as privatisation has been shown not to work?

  13. BevR

    RT @leftfootfwd: By all means protect water resources, but don’t soak the poor to do it

  14. wg

    It is strange that every problem requires a new tax – it’s easy to become cynical.

    It usually means that households have to reduce the use of their utilities, which is what the measures are being introduced to achieve.

    It just means cutting back on other things; if you don’t have it, you can’t spend it.

  15. Anonymous

    I do not mind selling England water, after all you charge us to cross the bridge to come into wales, so if we pump out water into England you pay for it.

    The problem when the Thames water filled in numerous reservoirs to sell on for building plots making the CEO a massive Bonus London has had water shortages, the massive leaks which are left because it costs to much, hence you get we need more money.

    Where I live we have five large groups of water which supplied the old steel works and the coal mines which are not used for anything except sailing boating and pleasure, if we pumped that out to England especially the south I can see us having the shortages while London needs our water.

    Nope you sort out your own water problems

  16. JC

    Renationalisation is not an option because it has been shown not to work. Under the nationalised system there was a lack of investment in infrastructure leading to the problems we now have. for example, South West Water are spending huge amounts of money (well publicised) in cleaning up the beaches in Devon and Cornwall by building sewage treatment works that were not in place before as it was easier to discharge into the sea.

    I’m sure contributors can add more if they wanted to.

  17. Blarg1987

    it can work, it is just not seen to be politically appealing, the problem is that yes some of these comapnies are spending money in new infastrucutre, however this is being paid for by tax payer subsidies and higher water bills.
    We are at the mercy of share dividens that these comapnies must provide. If it was run as a not for profit, with a long term plan such as new infastrucure etc, although water bills would still go up, they would not go up as much as privatisation as theeir would be no profit in it.
    If any profit is generated this would go back into the network or help subsidies poorer users usage.

  18. Anonymous

    Typical selfish behavior.

    Even different countries typically cooperate on water supplies, but in Britain, no, companies and people like you have to screw people over rather than cooperating.

    Typical Tory behavior (Don’t want me to call you that? Then don’t act like one).

  19. Anonymous

    Except it’s demonstrably causing artificial shortages when the UK as a whole does NOT have a water shortage. That’s not “working”. We should be piping water across the country, and cracking down on water leakage.

    But instead the shortages are purely regional, and companies have already in many cases “met their requirements” until 2015 on leakage even when it remains at 30%+

  20. Anonymous

    No, it means cutting back on water usage for basic tasks. And cutting back on food and other utilities. And given how fragile finances are, forcing tens of thousands to move.

    There’s ZERO give in the system for massive rises on the poor. (Who things like compulsory meters hammer the worst, because they live in higher density accommodation…nobody’s making sensible suggestions like setting rates per-person, it’s ALWAYS per-property…)

  21. BevR

    RT @leftfootfwd: By all means protect water resources, but don’t soak the poor to do it

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