Water Scarcity Status - the crucial first step

The supply of water has always been a concern of the local community. Fishing in the local rivers passing through common land was a right of local commoners since medieval times. Mills, whether they were for corn grown locally or for the production of paper, relied upon the local rivers providing the water as a source of power. Transportation increased the need for a reliable source of water when the Grand Junction Canal was constructed in 1797 and reservoirs were constructed at the Tring summit.

Following the cessation of hostilities of the Second World War, it was decided to create a series of New Towns around London to replace the extensive damage inflicted upon residential and commercial properties. On Hemel Hempstead being designated one of these New Towns in 1947, the local press recorded many articles related to concerns about this sudden expansion, particularly with regard to doubts about there being sufficient water available in the aquifer.

Similar concerns are again being expressed, particularly with regard to the proposed further expansion of local housing, as well as the potential threat of global warming.
However, because of modern management of water resources, we are now able to quite clearly prove that this area uses more water than is available from the aquifer. We are able to identify exactly how much water is imported into Dacorum. Fortunately, we are not living in some parts of the world where water shortages may perhaps lead to major international confrontations.

However, we are not safe from the need to take radical steps to ensure that water is a resource given maximum protection. Every effort must be made to return water to the aquifer. We must all ensure that personal use of water is carefully undertaken. In 2006, Three Valleys Water customers used eleven billion litres less tap water than they did the previous year. That is enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall 100 times. This fact is encouraging but we must recognise that the future will require such success to be maintained.

The metering of water is an important factor, for it has been shown that metered customers use on average 10% - 15% less water and this is a major and vital step forward in water conservation. The current policy is that all properties using a sprinkler must have a meter. However, this does not extend to all properties who use a hosepipe. All new build since 1989 should have a meter installed by law.

The current policy operates as a ‘change of hands’ policy, so that when a new water customer registers, if the property is not metered, then one is installed and the customer is charged a metered tariff from then on. This is now the main way that water penetration targets are achieved.

Water scarcity status has been adopted in Folkestone and Dover and this process is recommended for Dacorum because it means that a meter can be installed compulsorily in an organised way, street by street, and prioritised on areas of high consumption. This reduces unit costs of installations which is crucial, since Dacorum faces many other expensive improvements to its infrastructure.

Water Metering and the requisite capital investment

It is nearly two years since we expressed our support for this necessary exercise which is currently linked to new properties. The credit crunch might appear to have jeopardised such expenditure but last autumn there was much debate in the international press about capital projects being instigated (some people even went so far as to say that it would be valid to even build bridges to nowhere).

The Dacorum Environmental Forum Water Group would never go that far, but we know that the security of water supplies remains a priority regardless of financial difficulties. The recent, and more logical suggestion, has been for projects that legitimately bring about employment within the infrastructure requirements.

I am reminded of a project about twenty years ago when Colne Valley Water were actively replacing lead pipework associated with water supply to old houses in the Harrow area for public health reasons. This upgrading of the water infrastructure was undertaken on a street by street basis, which was both the most cost effective, and the least disruptive within each locality.

Whether or not Dacorum still has lead pipework supplying water to the older houses, it is surely time to consider the installation of water meters to such areas of housing.
Surely OFWAT needs to agree to the funding for metering as proposed in the Draft Water Resources Plan.

Author: Roger Hands, February 2009