Water & Wastewater – Review of the Year 2008

The big water headlines in 2007 may have centred on the summer floods in the UK, but in 2008 it was the fallout from those floods that dominated the news.

Just to underline the growing impact of flooding, the year started with deluges around the world, with severe floods hitting Africa, Australia, the US, parts of Asia and the UK – where the Met Office described it as “one of the wettest Januarys” on record.

In London, the Thames Barrier turned 25 in February amid warnings of more severe flooding to come in the next quarter of a century, while Mayor Ken Livingstone urged restaurant diners to reject bottled water in favour of tap water.

Professor Tony Allan was announced as the Stockholm Water Prize Laureate in March for creating the concept of ‘virtual water’.

While the UK settled into another soggy spring and summer, other countries tried to deal with the impact of drought.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger warned that water rationing could be on the cards, the Australian federal government pledged billions to save the country’s vital Murray-Darling river system, and Cyprus attempted to ship in water from Greece to ease its chronic water shortages.

The UK’s long-awaited Pitt Review into the 2007 summer floods was finally published in full in June recommending urgent action to improve flood resilience and deal with surface water flooding.

It was swiftly followed by pledges of multi-million-pound investments from Government.

In July, a major report from the World Health Organisation and the children’s charity UNICEF warned that 2.5bn people around the world live do not have access to proper sanitation, and called for greater efforts to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goal to improve access to sanitation.

Sanitation was also a major theme of this year’s World Water Week, held in Stockholm, Sweden, in August. Water experts from around the world also discussed water scarcity and the possible impacts of climate change on water resources.

Floods again hit headlines around the world in September as three million people in Bihar, India, were forced out of their homes by floodwaters, and floods killed several people in the UK.

As spring began in the southern hemisphere, water restrictions were brought back in on Australia’s Gold Coast, and the country’s Green party pleaded for water to save the Coorong wetlands.

UK water regulator Ofwat rounded off another busy year by ordering water companies to justify proposed inflation-busting increases to customers’ bills, announcing targets for companies to increase efficiency by 40% by 2010, and refusing to allow Sutton and East Surrey Water to increase its bills by 10.2% from April.

As the year drew to an end, NGO Water Aid called for more investment in infrastructure in the world’s slums, and a new website, www.desalination.biz was launched for the global desalination industry.

Finally, Defra raised concerns that the lessons of last year’s floods were already being forgotten, and in an exclusive interview with edie, David King, director of water at the Environment Agency, warned that flash flooding would always be a problem.

Kate Martin

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