Welsh Citizens Advised to Treat Water Like Oil

Craig Goch Dam 2006

A drought throughout the United Kingdom — the result of recent low rainfall amounts — has prompted water conservation measures to be imposed and also prompted calls for water-rich regions to profit from selling water to their thirsty neighbors. Much of the discussion has surrounded the possibility of Wales utility companies selling water to drought-stricken Southern England, but this has been soft-pedaled by recent revelations that rivers through the region are at record low levels.

Environment Agency Wales told the BBC that the Welsh public water supply is not currently at risk; however, residents are being urged to be mindful of how they use water given the low water levels of rivers throughout Wales. Fisheries and other resources could reportedly be affected by the continuing drought.

In the event of any summer rainfall in the U.K., experts say any precipitation will most likely evaporate or be absorbed by vegetation rather than recharge reservoirs.

Water restrictions have been in place since early April on 20 million homes in the area by companies including Anglian Water; South East Water; Southern Water; Sutton and East Surrey Water; Thames Water; Veolia Water Southeast; and Veolia Water Central, according to The Telegraph and the BBC .

Severn Trent, reportedly the first company to start trading water, will flow excess water into the River Tame, which flows into the River Trent. The 30 million liters/day of water will be collected by Anglian Water in Lincolnshire to supply 100,000 homes. The utility company said it would not make any money from this.

England’s drought has extended through the Midlands and also includes Herefordshire, Bristol, and Somerset.

John Jones, a former chairman and chief executive of Welsh Water, recently told the BBC that water should be treated like oil — a valuable commodity to be carefully traded. He said:

What is fairness? Is it fair that Wales isn’t profiting a penny from the water which is exported to England? In 50 years will our people look back and ask why didn’t we invest years ago? It’s about time we took this option seriously. It’s a lack of energy and vision which leads us to be in difficulties often.

“I would be more than happy for the Welsh government to decide — in discussion with Westminster — we will supply you (England) with water, the Welsh people are fully in support of that, but there should be a commercial return,” said Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd.

A Welsh Water spokesman told The Telegraph it was not considering such a plan as transporting water from Wales to southeast England is too expensive and environmentally impractical. Water experts in the region have said that the most reasonable solution for supplying Southern England would be to expand the water capacity of Elan Valley reservoirs.

John Lawson, a civil engineer with expertise in water issues, told the BBC:

From the studies that I have done in the past, the studies always lead back to the raising of Craig Goch dam if you need to have a really big new resource for southern England. Until some further evidence is produced to demonstrate that this is not possible, perhaps on environmental grounds, then I think that (Craig Goch) would be the best way.

Roger Falconer, professor of water management at Cardiff University, said the drought conditions do “highlight climate change and population growth” and have “been a wake-up call for England […] and they also help to focus attention here in Wales. […] We could live without oil,” said Falconer, “but not without water.”

Image by dave-pemcoastphotos.com (David Evans), used under its Creative Commons license.