September 25, 2023

Warnings London could face water rationing ‘soon’

A person sits by a water reservoir with low water levels and dried grass at Walthamstow Wetlands in London, UK, August 10, 2022

Reservoirs and lime streams would empty

London could face water rationing “soon” due to over-withdrawal, over-use and waste from leaking pipes.

River Action CEO James Wallace made the warning during a meeting with the Greater London Authority (GLA).

He said the lime streams that supply the capital with drinking water are in danger of drying up.

Thames Water said a national change was needed in the way water was used.

Speaking at the Town Hall meeting, Mr Wallace said many streams in the Chilterns, which feed the water supply to North London, were permanently running dry and some had only 25% of normal flow rates.

“This means we will soon see water rationing in North London. We are not talking about 20, 30, 40 years,” he said.

“When are we going to treat this like it’s an emergency?

“I realize it takes time to dig a reservoir, but some of these things, like changing our withdrawal requirements, reducing consumer demand, fixing leaky pipes, this is a national crisis and we need to address it handle it that way.”

In its annual report released this week, Thames Water said it was losing 602.2 million liters per day for 2022-23 based on a three-year rolling average.

The company’s interim chief executive, Cathryn Ross, clarified to the GLA that a third of this was unmeasured consumer use.

‘Take water for granted’

She said the government’s plan for water – which aimed to cut leakages in half by 2050 and reduce consumer consumption from an average of 144 liters per person per day to an average of 110 liters – did not go far enough.

When asked about water resources management, she replied, “Yes, there is more we need to do.

“But we actually need to change our national conversation about water, we need to change how we think about water.

“For example, we need to understand that London has more or less the same rainfall as Jerusalem and that we don’t live in a wet country where we take water for granted.”

The BBC asked Thames Water about this comparison between London and Jerusalem. The company said it was not something taken lightly and that it had filed the claim before. The BBC has not been able to find this in any previous annual reports or press releases over the past year.

The Met Office has been asked for average rainfall statistics for both areas.

Thames map

Thames map

Ms Ross said 80% of Thames Water customers were already using the government’s target of 110 liters a day, but 20% were using much more, mainly for watering gardens.

She said if the company could have built a 150 billion liter reservoir in Abingdon, Oxfordshire last summer, there would not have been a need for a garden hose ban.

The project was met with local opposition.

Ms Ross admitted that many of the company’s pipes were “outdated assets” that should have been replaced but had not been done because customers had not paid for them.

Thames Water officials work in Tollington Road near the junction with Hornsey Road, Holloway, north London, after a 36-inch water main burst, causing flooding up to four feet deep

Aging infrastructure has caused massive spills, says Thames Water

Thames Water, along with other companies, has pledged to update its infrastructure to reduce wastewater discharges, but it has spent the last few weeks fending off speculation about its financial collapse and nationalization amid £14bn debt.

Mr Wallace said this was the result of “predatory” profit-seeking by his shareholders, particularly Australian financial services firm Macquarie, whom he blamed for loading Thames Water with debt.

Thames Water this year failed to meet its target of reducing leaks, as well as those for sewer overflows, pollution, blockages and customer use.

Ms Ross said the company was not profitable and had an after-tax loss of £30m this year.

She declined to comment on whether privatization had been a failure, saying she had “not given much thought” to whether the water industry would have been better off if it had remained in government hands.

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