Water and Wastewater – 2005 in review

The country struggled to come to terms with a world of feast or famine when it came to water and wastewater news, starting with extreme floods and ending with winter warnings of drought.

An all clear was given for the North West during the second week of the year after severe downpours caused widespread damage throughout several areas (see related story) and a report was soon issued finding that local authorities throughout the country were ignoring clear messages about building in flood-prone areas (see related story).

This tendency was seemingly encouraged by the Government itself after it was revealed that each of the four areas in the South East designated for new housing growth by the Government faced fairly high levels of flood risk (see related story).

The Environment Agency was soon granted new powers to manage all forms of flooding and coastal erosion as a new 20 year strategy was unveiled (see related story) covering a range of planning laws.

After these flood warnings, the Environment Agency soon started predicting droughts at various points across the country – particularly the South East (see related story) leading to calls for increased use of water meters in households throughout the country to cut demand (see related story).

However, savings that could be made on the domestic side seemed to pale into insignificance compared to the millions of litres that are lost every day through the leaky pipes of the country’s major water suppliers (see related story).

This discovery was particularly timely, coming as it did, in the middle of the predicted summer drought.

A ‘State of the Water’ report was submitted to the European Commission outlining diffuse pollution, mainly from agriculture, as the biggest threat to Britain’s water supplies and the biggest obstacle toward meeting the strictures of the Water Framework Directive (see related story).

Urban run off also contributed towards diffuse pollution (see related story), but despite this, British beaches and bathing water were still found to be of the highest quality (see related story) despite reports that sea water was at risk from bad land management techniques leading to run off (see related story).

The problem of diffuse agricultural pollution was addressed, although by no means solved, as 40 catchment areas throughout the country were targeted under a £25 million programme to improve farming methods (see related story).

Despite all these problems, the GB water and sewerage industry was found to compare favourably with all other European countries (see related story).

Indeed, Ofwat found that water companies were performing well despite lower than expected spending (see related story) although the regulator did find that the performance of sewage treatment works was still a cause for concern.

A separate report found that UK water companies should have sufficient supply to meet demand by 2010, even in very dry years, but only if they managed their resources responsibly such as by cutting leakages through their pipes (see related story).

As the year drew to a close, the government announced the South West would become a pilot area to test new affordability measures, such as metering and means testing as it faces the highest water and sewerage charges in the country (see related story). Meanwhile a new water regime in Scotland will see low income households water charges capped to make them affordable for all (see related story).

In addition, the Ofwat and the Government announced that they were considering the feasibility of building the Thames Tideway – a tunnel to prevent the wet weather discharges of raw sewage flooding straight into the river (see related story).

The results of the study will be released later this year.

David Hopkins

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