Drought! Drought!! Drought?

by Suw on November 26, 2003

It’s been coming down stair-rods on and off for the last couple of weeks. The ‘road’ (it’s more of a track really) out front periodically pretends to be a small stream as the water sheets down out of the leaden sky and runs off hills faster than the clay soil can soak it up.

The cats eternally hope that the weather outside the back door will be nicer than the weather outside the patio doors, and are constantly disappointed. I’ve never seen a cat with it’s legs crossed in desperation before, but lately Fflwff’s come close.

So today I suspect that most of the country will have been, like me, rather taken aback by the news that we are heading for a drought. We should, the journalists tell us, cut back. We should use less water each day – turn the tap off whilst you brush your teeth, put a brick in your toilet cistern and use less water to peel your potatoes of an evening.

Whilst all this is sound advice, and whilst we really should cut back on our water consumption, I do rather resent the implication that I as a consumer am to blame for the water shortage when the amount of water I waste on a daily basis is but nothing to the amount escaping from damaged pipes that the water companies are persistently failing to fix.

In 1997, the water companies were losing around 4 billion litres of water a day from leaks in England and Wales. In 2002 that figure fell to 3.4 billion litres per day. That might look like an improvement, but that’s still something like 66 litres a day each – enough for that quick shower before bedtime that you weren’t going to have because you wanted to save water.

(Data from page 13 of this Ofwat leakage report: warning, evilly huge file.)

Even if I do use on average 100 litres of water a day, as the journalists tell me I do, I can’t see how my savings could possibly make up for these leakages which go unchecked by the water companies.

To add injury to insult, at the beginning of November some consumers learnt that they would face increased water bills as utilities companies decided that rather than use some of their profits to fund essential work, they’d just ramp up charges to consumers instead. After all, can’t have the shareholders going hungry, can we now?

Allowing any public utility to be provided by a private company is frankly a big mistake. Instead of taking care of the environment, (I’m not even going to begin on the parlous state of our rivers, which are these days treated as no more than drains), ensuring that we all have safe potable water in our taps and treating our sewerage to the highest of standards before allowing it back into the waterways, these companies are screwing the consumer into the ground to make sure that their shareholders’ nests are comfortably feathered.

Public utilities (not to mention the railways) should be entirely run by a non-profit organisation that is 100% accountable to its customers – us. Instead, Johnny Water & Sons Co. can happily up their prices, bugger the environment and mismanage our national water supplies all they like, whilst Ofwat uninterestedly watches.

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