Thames plans UK’s ‘biggest reservoir for 25 years’

Thames Water, infamous as Britain's leakiest water company, plans to build the nation's biggest reservoir for 25 years to provide for the growing needs of an ever-thirstier London.

The proposed £1bn reservoir near Abingdon in Oxfordshire would go some way towards easing water shortages in the capital, faced with a fast-growing population and worsening drought.

It would increase supply at a cost to water customers, who would have to pay higher water charges.

With a capacity of 150bn litres – equivalent to half the volume of Lake Windermere – the reservoir would supply an extra 350m litres a day, most of it to be used by Londoners.

But the additional supply does not match up to the 900m litres of water lost daily through Thames Water’s leaky Victorian pipes in the capital – a third of the entire supply.

The company was already planning to spend over £1bn on replacing old pipes to cut down leakage, and was recently ordered to spend an £150m more by Ofwat after missing its leak targets, instead of paying a fine (see related story).

But Thames only plans to cut leakage down to 720m litres a day, as it says a more ambitious target would be too expensive to implement.

Even if it reaches the 720m target, the company would still be losing about a quarter of its entire supply through leaks.

Thames Water has continues to face strong criticism over its leakage record. Commenting on the reservoir plans, Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Chris Huhne said:

“Thames Water would get a much more sympathetic hearing for its plans to build a new reservoir if it tackled the atrocious problems with its existing infrastructure, instead of wasting money on expensive advertising campaigns.

“Thames Water has missed its leakage targets for three successive years while announcing record profits and failing to ensure the security of water supply, which is its core purpose.

But the company said that the reservoir, which would not be completed until 2018 at the earliest, is needed on top of work to cut leakage and water saving measures.

“These measures alone will not match demand, particularly in the driest months, and that is why we need a large reservoir as part of our plans to provide for our long-term needs,” said Thames Water’s environment director Richard Aylard.

“Our current predictions show that by the year 2030 we will need an extra 280 million litres a day in London and 60 million litres a day in Swindon and Oxfordshire.”

As demand grows, London’s water shortages will be further compounded by an expected population growth of 800,000 over the next decade and worsening drought in a hotter, drier climate, he said.

The plans are subject to a public consultation, which will last until November, and will be followed by the design and environmental impact assessment stages of the project.

If the plans go ahead, local residents will have to be moved out of the area, possibly by force through the use of compulsory purchase orders.

Goska Romanowicz

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