Latest leak from City Hall: London faces a water crisis

London is facing a water crisis.

It never rains but it pours… Thames Water was fined £120m for its failures over leaks

That’s according to a report from Leonie Cooper, Labour’s spokesperson on the environment at the London Assembly.

Running out or Flooded out? warns that London’s changing climate, loss of green space, growing population and ageing water pipes, are putting the capital at an increased risk of flooding and drought. It also exposes the failure of London’s water suppliers to tackle leaks. The capital has had 26,000 burst pipes in just over four years.

It is 12 months since Thames Water was handed a £120million fine from the regulator for its mismanagement of water leakages, and data acquired by Cooper from London’s two biggest water suppliers – Thames Water and Affinity Water – shows that there were 26,082 burst pipes in London between 2015 and the end of February 2019.

According to Cooper’s report, the capital’s changing, and increasingly extreme, climate has left London’s old water pipes unable to cope. Floods across south London in early 2018 were the result of extreme freeze-thaw weather during the “Beast from the East”, with widespread flooding and water outages.

It is national Labour Party policy to re-nationalise utilities, such as water, which were privatised under Thatcherism on the premise that only the private sector could provide the capital investment needed to modernise and upgrade often Victorian era infrastructure.

Yet Cooper’s report suggests that such investment has not been forthcoming, even though household water and sewerage bills in England have risen by 40 per cent since privatisation in 1989. Meanwhile, investment in water supply infrastructure was lower in 2018 than in 1990.

Leonie Cooper’s water table…

Following warnings from the Environment Agency that the south-east of England could run out of water in the next 25 years, Cooper has also urged the Mayor of London to raise awareness about what can be done to save water. Londoners are estimated to use on average 149 litres of water per person per day, 5 per cent higher than the national average. Use of domestic water meters has been shown to reduce usage by 30 to 40 litres per family per day.

Thames Water has warned that a severe drought could cost London’s economy £330million per day. With the threat of drought increasing, Cooper wants schemes to build new reservoirs to serve the capital accelerated.

The report also warns that London’s growing population is putting pressure on the capital’s sewerage system, causing pollution to be leaked into the Thames and burst pipes. And almost as if Cooper’s report had Croydon in mind, it also points to the loss of green space, with water unable to escape impermeable surfaces contributing to flooding, which is now considered one of the biggest risks to London’s resilience.

“Water is essential for people to function, and it is essential for our city to function,” Cooper said.

“Given we sit right on top of the River Thames and England is known globally for its rain, so it’s easy to make the mistake of believing we have an endless water supply – but the opposite is true.

Assembly Member Leonie Cooper: critical of the water companies

“With London under the looming threat of both flooding and drought, we simply cannot afford to wait before taking action to protect our water supply.

“While the Mayor has no real legal powers in relation to water resources, he can use his influence to ensure water companies protect and invest in vital infrastructure. With the rate at which we’re seeing leaks across London, it’s clear suppliers need to up their game.

“As Londoners, we can also help by paying closer attention to the amount of water we’re using and trying to cut back wherever possible.”

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1 Response to Latest leak from City Hall: London faces a water crisis

  1. Lewis White says:

    It is about time that Croydon Sewage works was re-engineered as a Croydon water supply works.

    Round here we take water mainly from the Chalk aquifer of the North Downs, supplemented (I am pretty sure) by water from the London water ring main. The water drunk and consumed by the populations of Banstead, Coulsdon, Sanderstead, Caterham , Kenley Purley Waddon etc etc etc all gets flushed down the sewers at the bottom of the valleys that end up at Croydon –at the Beddington sewage works. I am not sure where the water consumedin Norbury and the North of Croydon ends up– maybe as far away as Crossness near Dartford.

    The level of the chalk aquifer varies over decades due to rainfall, but the general trend is that the levels are reducing gradually as rainfall has likewise gradually reduced–while the local; population continues to increase.

    Hence , the once crystalline springs beside Croydon Minster and Wandkle Park are now dried up, yet the River Wandle further downstream of the Croydon Sewage treatment plant is brim full, even in the height of Summer, due to the huge outflow of treated water from the plant at Goat Bridge Mitcham. Take a look at the levels at the Merton bus garage area.

    At present, we use the water only once , as it is consumed, flushed into the sewers, then treated and put into the Wandle.

    To save much more water, we would need to use a proportion of the treated water again, treat it to a higher standard, then put it back into supply, maybe mixing it with 50% of virgin fresh water from the chalk. The resulting product would then get put back into supply and pumped up hill to the consumers .

    It probably is just a matter of time before this happens. If Labour get into government, and water is re-nationalised, this might happen sooner, but this is not guaranteed.

    The alternative would seem to be to build another reservoir in Kent or Sussex, but that would take a lot of land.

    Another issue that needs to be addressed better than it currently is, is the concreting and tarmacking over of the land surface in the town and suburbs. Permeable paving allows water to percolate through into the subsoil , where it gets cleaned up by microbes, then seeps down to feed the aquifer, not running off into the nearest road, down a drain, and into the sewers or the Wandle, to cause flooding around the Wandle valley. Far too many driveway builders are still not using permeable paving. Every square metre of land that is rendered impermeable is a metre too much.

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