National water grid 'could cost £15bn'

A national water grid pumping water from the north to south east England would cost up to £15bn and cause a significant rise in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from the Environment Agency.

A prolonged drought in the South East led ministers to commission a review of large-scale water transfers from the EA in February 2006.

Building and maintaining the system of pipelines from the North Pennines to London would cost four times more than building new reservoirs, the agency found. Having investigated the financial and environmental costs of a water grid, it said the project was technically feasible but unnecessary.

"In engineering terms, a national grid is feasible but there's no point in spending money on a big scheme that isn't needed. It could cost up to £15 billion to build and millions more in ongoing operating costs - and all that money would come out of the pockets of water bill payers," said the EA's chief executive Paul Leinster.

Water companies should adopt more sustainable solutions instead, such as sharing water between regions, reducing leakage, encouraging water savings and building new reservoirs, the report recommends.

Transporting water from the Pennines to London would involve five pipelines carrying 1100 megalitres a day over 560km, which, apart from the construction and maintenance costs, would use up substantial amounts of energy and contribute to carbon emissions. Fish diseases and alien species spreading via the pipelines was another concern.

The idea of building a system of pipes from North to South was first investigated in 1973, but abandoned in favour of smaller-scale water transfers between water companies.

"We think water companies can meet future water demand over the next 25 years without the need for a national grid," Paul Leinster said.

"In the end, we all have to take responsibility for our water use. If people, water companies and industry all work together, we can reduce the need for massive engineering solutions and look at more sustainable solutions," he said.

The EA report, Do we need large-scale water transfers for south east England?, is available to download here.

Goska Romanowicz



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