Thursday, 26 April 2012

The wettest drought I've ever seen

This is apparently the wettest April on record. Yesterday it absolutely chucked it down and there are four days more of heavy rain to come. There are currently 40 flood warnings in place. The ground is waterlogged. The streams are full. In short, it is very, very wet.

However, officially, we are still in the middle of a drought due to low levels of water in the resevoirs and aquifiers. This is meant to be the result of a dry autumn and winter. But they weren't especially dry and there's certainly no shortage of rainfall. So to blame it on the weather is nonsense.

The real cause of the so-called drought is lack of capacity. Most of this rain pouring down at the moment will be wasted. It will go into the streams and the rivers and right back out to sea.

So it's not a question of lack of rain, it's a question of lack of ability to collect it. And the reason for that lack of collection capability is because there haven't been any new resevoirs built since the 70s. In the thirty or fourty years since then, the UK's population has increased by over ten million people. It's ruddy obvious that ten million more people will mean more water being needed.

But the response of the water companies over these years has been to do nothing more to meet increased demand than digging new boreholes and draining underground aquifiers - aquifiers which take many years to refill.

So the real cause of the drought is massive underinvestment in infrastructure by water companies who've been busy raking in money hand over fist over the past three decades while putting hardly any of it back into infrastructure.

And this, of course, is nothing more than what's to be expected when a bloody moron (e.g. Thatcher) gives away a key national resource to private investors. They're not concerned about making sure that the infrastructure is sufficient. They're not concerned about preventing hosepipe bans. All they're concerned about is making money. And it's the rest of the country who has to pay the price for that.


  1. Your posting is a bit simplistic.

    There have been two successive relative dry winters, not one - and there are concerns that there may be a third. There may well be a case for more reservoir capacity in the southern part of England & Wales but if we continue to have relatively dry winters there just won't be enough water to collect.

    The UK as a whole has plenty of rainfall - much of it falls in places where the need for water is lower - in the north & west.

    1. I'm afraid simplistic is what happens when I bash out a blogpost in twenty minutes on a crowded commuter train early in the morning ;)

      But yes, the dry winters are why the resevoirs are low. But dry winters should not be a problem as there is still sufficient rainfall to provide water.

      So the reason we have a shortage is a) lack of resevoir building in the south and b) lack of a national water grid to allow water to be moved from low need, high rainfall areas to high need, low rainfall areas. That's what the national electricity grid does, and, as a bonus, it also means that, unlike water supply, you can't have monopolies in specific areas as people can buy their electricity from anywhere in the country.

  2. The fundamental problem is that users don't receive a reduction in their bills or a rebate when there is a hosepipe ban. Such reductions need to be enforced by law through an act of parliament. The companies would then be forced to invest to protect their revenue stream.

    Water supply is currently a monopoly; a monopoly in which the quality of service to the customer can go significantly down with no financial penalty to the provider.


  3. Whilst you may be making a reasonable point you spoil it by overstating your case. Your statement "But the response of the water companies over these years has been to do nothing more to meet increased demand than digging new boreholes and draining underground aquifiers - aquifiers which take many years to refill." is factually incorrect. Abberton Reservoir in Essex is currently being expanded at a cost of £150million.

    1. I wasn't aware of the expansion of Abberton Resevoir but I'm assuming it's a relatively recent thing. I used a generalisation in my blogpost so it's not 100% accurate but, in general terms, there has been chronic underinvestment in water infrastructure over the past 30 years and the investment that has occurred has been the minimum they can get away with - such as drilling new boreholes. They might have started on some new investment recently but that doesn't really make up for what I would characterise as decades of profiteering with minimum investment.

  4. No, George, I think you are right. England may not be the wettest place in Britain, but it is still wet.

    Private companies have one main objective: to make money. Of course usually to do this they have to provide a service, but often that is a very secondary consideration to the first, which is to make as much money as they possibly can.

    Water is a monopoly. You have to have water and you have to buy it from the local provider. (A network would be incredibly expensive, and who would pay for it...private companies?) Equally of course water companies get rid of sewerage, again, a monopoly.

    The watchdog might be better named watch pussy cat, because it's no bloody use at all.

    So, they cut back on all manner of things because they thought ... England is wet; it rains a lot; we don't need people clearing channels and cutting back undergrowth. And then they sacked all these people and cut back on investment on water capture.

    Well, yes they did need all these people; they need to invest in water capture and they need to invest in pipes that don't leak.

    But actually they don't give a fig if little people can't have showers, or water their gardens.

    I remember that when Yorkshire Water took over, they had a dreadful drought and hose pipe ban, and the managing director asked people not to take baths to save as much water as possible.

    He, he said, could, and did, wash himself in a mug full of water.

    So there he was, sounding like he was just one of the ordinary people (albeit a relatively malodorous one ... until lo and behold, it turned out that his mother-in-law lived outside the Yorkshire area and that, in fact, he took baths and showers in her house.

    In Scotland we still have water in public hands. Let us hope that it remains that way.

  5. I remember paying water rates when water was government owned and controlled.It was a darn site cheaper than the privatised utilities.
    Thatcher sold of Gas,Water,Electricity all at knock down prices.All to companies that look after shareholders and not customers.

    Not forgetting at that time we had a good income from the British Gas Rigs in the sea.So much so that town gas was no longer needed.Although it was being slowly phased out.The stuff made from coal.

    But she used that income to finance tax breaks for the wealthy.Much like the ConDems are doing on the backs of the poor by attacking benefits.


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