With the New York style weather (bitter cold with clear blue sky and sunshine) we’ve been experiencing recently in London, there is a downside. The effect has been to intensify the drought situation in the UK. With half the country now under a drought order following two dry winters and a relatively dry spring, this is not good news for consumers.
What has exacerbated the situation is the high volume of leaks still occuring on our streets. Above, is an example of one that I recently came across in Marylebone. Having just reported it to Thames Water’s leak line, I’ll be able to see first hand how quickly this gets dealt with. That said, we also have an awful lot of water works happening in Maida Vale & St John’s Wood which largely appear not to be worked on when ever l pass by them.
My anecdotal observations appear to stand up when you realise that Thames Water tops the table of leaks whilst millions face a hosepipe ban. Thames Water is truly in a league of its own with an average of over 600 megalitres per day leaked. Yes it is the case that Thames Water which serves 8.8 million customers met its leakage targets set by OFWAT over the past six years. However its leak rate is five times higher than the 5 per cent that will be saved by the hosepipe ban. Indeed it has led to Fred Pearce, the New Scientist’s environment consultant to comment that “Thames Water’s leakage rates are obscene” . It’s quite clear that the targets are not sufficiently challenging in the first place.
On top of all this, Thames Water’s customers have had to endure an above average price and above inflation increase of 6.7% from the 1st of April and a payment of almost £2 million in bonuses ( p 47 ) to it’s top 3 executives. Thames Water have responded by saying that half the bonuses were incentive plans from previous years paid only after tough financial targets were met by them, and further that the company invests £1 billion a year in improving pipes, sewers and other facilities. However, looking at the figures in the table above for Thames Water, their efforts appear not to be making significant impact on the volume of leaks but simply sustaining them at the same level. So on the day that millions were made the subject of a hosepipe ban, received bills with record inflation busting price rises for the year ahead, it’s little wonder customers found such bonuses had to swallow.
Others like the Economist magazine suggest that the housepipe ban is a poor solution to a water shortage as it maintains a cap on price whilst reducing the quantity of water. So if customers can’t pay for it, they will commit their time to finding other ways to obtaining it. As a result, a considerable amount of effort will be spent on side-stepping the ban by exploiting the loopholes, for example, pretending the use helps on health and safety grounds or supporting wildlife which the rules permit. Still others will choose to ignore the ban, as the last time it happened in 2006 some 2 in 7 ignored the rule!
The upshot of these bonus payments, price rises, poor performance and low level targets, is that we appear appear to have the worst of both worlds when it comes to our water industry. We have private utilities, but no competition, in short, regional private monopolies with little incentive to reduce our consumption of our precious water resource.