United Utilities consider north-south water pipeline project

Drought in the UK's water stressed southern regions could be tackled through water networking, according to United Utilities, which has mooted the idea of running a north-south pipeline alongside controversial HS2 high speed rail network.

Speaking to edieWater, a United Utilities spokesperson confirmed it is considering the feasibility of constructing a pipeline to transport water, but that it had “no firm plans in place” – rather it is looking at “innovative” ways to help tackle drought.

According to United Utilities chief financial officer Russ Houlden, as the pipeline would only be used as an “insurance policy” in times of water shortage the operational cost “should be manageable”. Nevertheless, it has been estimated the construction of the pipeline would cost in the region of £2.6bn.

The plan follows a call by the environment secretary Caroline Spelman for water companies and businesses to take innovative approaches to water management, after it emerged the south east is at serious risk of drought, as a result of three successive dry winters.

Speaking at an emergency drought summit last week, Ms Spelman said: “It is imperative that we have a system in place that can provide a secure water supply for the future, at the same time as we continue to protect the environment”.

Mr Houlden, added: “The current drought emphasises what we have known for some time – that there is more water available in the north than the south and that this issue will become more acute as climate change impacts hit us over the next 50 years.

“A north-south pipeline could be built to address that. Typically the objections to such an idea have been build cost, operational cost, planning difficulties and environmental impact. HS2 offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for joined up working to minimise planning difficulties and environmental impact.”

However, United Utilities said that no formal proposal had been submitted to the Government, although confirmed it is in “an ongoing dialogue with government, and other water companies, about proposals to tackle the long-term impact of climate change”, and that it hopes the proposal can “form part of those discussions in the future”.

Carys Matthews

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie