How we can make the most of our water

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The message is clear – think about every drop of water you use.

We have seen two very dry winters in a row and last year was the driest for the region for a century, with just 426mm of rainfall – two thirds of the annual average.

You might think water is an infinite resource but that’s not the case. Customers in the Anglian Water region have already been asked to abide by a hosepipe ban this summer, but the water company has said it will take considerable rainfall to bring water levels back up to where they need to be.

This week it was announced Anglian Water is in talks with Severn Trent Water about a plan to flow water from the Midlands into the drought-hit east.

About 30 million litres of water per day – enough to supply 100,000 homes in the Anglian Water region – could be transferred 80 miles from Birmingham to Gainsborough in Lincolnshire under the scheme.

Simon Love, head of drought response at Anglian Water, said: “We are talking to Severn Trent about this idea, and it’s one that we are taking seriously. We are exploring a number of options to help support the drought-hit region, including the movement of water across water company boundaries.”

But what other measures may have to be considered in order to cope with an ongoing drought?

COMPULSORY METERING

The main message from Anglian Water is about reducing the amount of water we all use.

One way of doing this is by encouraging customers to switch from rate-based bills to water meters.

About two thirds of Anglian Water customers are already on a meter and the company says people tend to use 15 per cent less water if they are on a meter.

In a bid to encourage more people to consider switching, the company is installing meters in 27,000 households in the Corby, Kettering, and Wellingborough areas.

Those customers can opt to switch to a meter if they wish, and those who do will be able to switch back within two years if they are unhappy.

But Anglian Water is stopping short of introducing compulsory metering, something other water companies have done.

Antony Innes, of Anglian Water, said: “We have been proactive in our metering because not only does it save water but it is also the fairest way to pay.

“All we have done to this date is voluntary metering. Other companies are looking at compulsory metering for their customers. We do sometimes install meters compulsorily but they do not have to be used.”

NEW RESERVOIRS

Water levels at reservoirs in the region are way down, so you might ask – why not build more reservoirs?

In the west of the Anglian Water region, including Northamptonshire, the water supply comes largely from the pumped reservoirs at Rutland Water, Grafham Water and Pitsford Reservoir. The remaining 50 per cent comes from ground water from 450 operational boreholes.

But building more reservoirs is not as simple as it sounds.

Antony Innes, of Anglian Water, said: “This is not something we would turn to in the first instance. Building new reservoirs requires a lot of planning and a lot of time to fill them.

“This is not a solution to a drought but in the future it could be something we turn to.”

NATIONAL GRID FOR WATER

While here in the east we are desperate for water, in Scotland and Wales they have buckets of the stuff.

Some experts are championing the much-debated idea of channelling water from the north to the south via pipeline. Last year London Mayor Boris Johnson called for the resurrection of a 1942 plan to build a canal from the Scottish borders to the south-east.

While Anglian Water is currently discussing the possibility of ‘buying in’ water from neighbouring Severn Trent Antony Innes, of Anglian Water, says a national grid-style system for water is not feasible.

He said: “It would be hugely expensive, difficult to manage and risky in terms of leaks, but inter-connectivity with our neighbouring counties is an option.

“We don’t really believe this is the solution, we believe in efficiency and the success of this is largely down to our customers.

“Every day we supply 1.2 billion litres of water, which is the same as we did at the time of privatisation in 1989, despite the population increase of 20 per cent.

“That is thanks to our customers who are starting to heed the message about saving water.”

DESALINATION

About 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, so how can we be short of it?

The problem is 97 per cent of it is seawater and therefore not fit for drinking.

There are ways to treat this salt water, called desalination, to make it suitable for use but it’s a costly process.

Thames Water, which also has a hosepipe ban in place, opened the first large-scale desalination plant in London in 2010 but it cost them £250m to build and will only be used in times of drought due to the high running costs.

Antony Innes, of Anglian Water, says Anglian Water is reluctant to look at desalination just yet. He said: “It is something we are monitoring closely and the technological developments that have increased with this way of treating water.

“Our innovation team is not looking at acting on it yet but it could be a solution in the long-term future.

“Desalination plants are incredibly expensive to build and run and in times of non-drought they would be sat idle. Plus, any investment on this scale would lead to a rise in customer bills.”