Leading environmental commentator rails against government inaction on metering and private abstractions, as well as Ofwat and water companies
Never mind the H20: this scheme to move water from Severn to Thames could be the new HS2
England’s water woes have a solution. But trying to move vast volumes of water from west to east is not it, according to George Monbiot
It’s a classic end-of-pipe solution. Rather than addressing the problem at source, it piles one problem upon another. Yet, like so many disastrous schemes, it is now developing a momentum of its own. The political capital being invested in this project threatens to make it the next HS2.
The south-east of England is permanently threatened by water shortages. A shocking lack of planning and investment by the water companies, alongside their gross failure to reduce demand and conserve supplies, ensure that as drought looms again the stupidest of all solutions begins to look attractive. Rather than properly managing its supplies, Thames Water wants to pipe huge volumes across the country from another catchment: the Severn.
Upstream solutions are never more fitting than when managing water. There’s a clear hierarchy of responsible action. First, you should seek to reduce demand. The UK has one of Europe’s highest levels of household water consumption, and in England we each use, on average, 141 litres a day. Countries that take water conservation seriously use much less: just over 100 litres in Denmark, 95 in Belgium. Compulsory water metering would bring us closer to the Danish level, but the government has ruled it out.
Environment Agency tells supplier to rethink plans to tackle droughts by pumping water from Thames and Severn
Thames Water has been told by the Environment Agency it needs to do more to fix the 630m litres of water it leaks a day before it starts taking water from the River Thames or from Wales to tackle drought problems.
The company has published its ideas for tackling climate crisis-induced droughts across London and the south-east, which include abstracting millions of litres a day from the River Thames and replacing it with treated effluent, to taking 155m litres a day from Wales.
But in an analysis of the company’s 2024 draft water resources plans, the Environment Agency says Thames Water needs to think again and justify its decisions.