Storage capacity has barely increased in 20 years, though population has risen by 10 per cent.
In two weeks’ time, millions of people in southern and eastern England will face a £1,000 fine if they use a hosepipe. So, as our water bills continue to rise faster than inflation (mine has risen by 10 per cent this year), many people will get even less water for their money. But before we blame this just on the unusual winter drought, a few figures are in order.
Since our water industry was privatised 20 years ago (it is now largely foreign-owned), our total storage capacity, 520 billion gallons, has barely increased. Due to drought, our reservoirs are only 90 per cent full, a shortfall of 50 billion gallons. Yet in the Thames Water area alone, more than 50 billion gallons a year is lost in leaks – fully a third of the total that the Australian-owned company delivers to its customers.
So where have all those tens of billions of pounds that we have handed to the water companies gone, if they haven’t been spent on increasing our water storage, over a period when the population rose by 10 per cent, or on mending leaks? (In Holland, where water is still state-owned, only 6 per cent is lost in leaks.)
One important factor, which is usually hidden from us, I was able to reveal in this column on May 13, 2007, when I reported on a letter sent by the relevant minister, Lord Rooker, to Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who had asked in the Lords for an update on how much we had spent complying with EU water directives. Rooker replied that we had spent £65 billion on meeting the requirements of three directives on water quality, but only £14 billion on “infrastructure”, such as improving water storage and cutting down on leaks.
So a large part of the reason why we pay more for less is that we are compelled to put the needs of complying with EU directives above those of the British people who pay the bills. But isn’t it interesting that such information isn’t made generally available, and only slipped out thanks to a letter to a member of the House of Lords from a minister who must have hoped that it wouldn’t get any publicity?
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