Trade union blames UK drought situation on reservoir closure

UK water supplier Thames Water has come under fire from trade union GMB for closing more than 20 reservoirs, which it argues is responsible for making drought in the south east worse.

According to GMB, the closure of 25 water reservoirs in the south east since privatisation in the 1980s has resulted in less than 1% of the UK’s rainfall being collected and stored for human consumption – instead the water runs directly into the sea.

It also argues that there is no shortage of water in the UK, but that the current south east drought is the result of “serious mismanagement” by Thames Water for failing to divert water in the region.

As a result, the union is calling on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee to launch an inquiry into water management and reservoir closures by Thames Water and other water utilities, saying that it must hold suppliers, the Environment Agency (EA), Ofwat and the regulatory bodies to account for allowing parts of the UK to “needlessly” run dry.

GMB national secretary for water Gary Smith, said: “Storage and transfer are two of the main elements of water resource management: one to move water from times of plenty to times of shortage; the other to convey water from places where it is plentiful to areas where it is in short supply. The third basic element is treatment to regulate water quality.”

He added that water storage facilities in the south east has left the region short of water twice in the space of six years.

However, Thames Water have hit back, saying that many of these sites closed were not storage reservoirs and were just used to stored small amounts of treated water.

Speaking to edie, a Thames Water spokesperson said: “They did not store raw water and were shut when improvements to our water supply network made them redundant.

“Other sites listed (by the GMB) were only ever treatment works for water stored elsewhere, or were part of the distribution system, and at least one was actually part of the wastewater network and nothing to do with drinking water.”

He added: “To put things into perspective, the site on the list which would have stored the largest amount of water was the four raw water reservoirs at Barnes, which were made redundant when the London Ring Main was opened in the 1990s. The site is now the London Wetland Centre. The total capacity of those reservoirs was sufficient to supply London’s current needs for around 24 hours.”

To tackle the situation, GMB wants to see Thames Water open the disused Severn Thames canal course to transfer water into the south east and prevent it from running off into the sea.

However, Thames Water said that while it is considering several water network transfer schemes as part of its 2014 Water Resource Management Plan, which include plans to build a new reservoir in the Severn Valley that “none could be completed in a timescale that could help us in the current drought”, adding that “the canal option would require many years of work to bring derelict sections of the canal back into use”.

This follows on from criticism made last week by the Green Party, which also blamed the hosepipe ban and UK drought on “water mismanagement” by water companies.

Carys Matthews

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