Memorandum by Water UK (IW 41)
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
Water UK represents the whole of the UK water
industry, consisting of private companies in England and Wales,
the three Scottish Water authorities and the Northern Ireland
Water Service. Our members supply over 58 million people with
high quality drinking water and remove and treat waste water.
The UK has some of the highest quality drinking water in the worldlast
year 99.8 per cent of tests were passed by the independent Drinking
Water Inspectorate. The industry has invested over £15 billion
since 1990, and is projected to spend a further £3 billion
per year in the next five years to improve drinking water and
A National grid for water?
Currently there is no national grid for water
supply, either dealing with raw water or treated water.
Regional transfers of raw water take place in
various parts of the countryand in some areas these are
quite extensivefor instance in East Anglia. Companies and
the regulators ensure that such schemes take place only where
they make sense, economically and environmentally. Whilst there
is likely to be scope to increase some of these schemes locally,
it is unlikely that national schemes would be viable.
Regional transfers of raw water are separate
from, and different to, inter-company transfers of treated water
via bulk supply agreements. These are one-way supplies and could
not form the basis of a water "grid". Water is heavy
and low value for its weight. The water industry is an intensive
user of energywith over 50 per cent of energy used for
pumping. This makes it uneconomic to pipe treated water over long
distances. It is extremely unlikely that a national system for
moving treated water would be viable.
A third party such as British Water would need
access to water resources in order to move sizeable quantities
of water around the country. The EA is reviewing the abstraction
licensing process across the whole of England and Wales, with
a view to decreasing the amount of water taken from the environment.
Water companies, which have a duty to provide a public water supply
require priority access to water resources. Whilst it is possible
that third parties could gain access to resources, this is likely
to be in areas with no deficit, requiring the water to be moved
long distanceswhich currently is not economically viable.
The UK does not have a national plan for water
resources. A plan would provide a framework for planning for water
transfers in the future. It is hoped that the Environment Agency's
water resources strategy expected later this year will be a step
towards a national plan. Without a plan, then it is up to private
enterprise to promote water transfer schemes, unless the EA actively
promotes its duties to augment and redistribute water resources.
We would urge the Agency to promote these duties nationally and
Whatever system is put in place, the recently
adopted Water Framework Directive set the policy context that
"decisions should be taken as close as possible to the locations
where water is affected or used; priority should be given to action
within the responsibility of Member States through the drawing
up of programmes of measures adjusted to regional and local conditions".
Water quality varies substantially throughout
the UK, both due to pollution but also depending on water source
and the underlying geology. Water treatment works are designed
to produce a stable quality of drinking water from raw water with
known chemical and physical properties. Whilst there is obviously
a degree of flexibility built into treatment processes, mixing
of water could increase variability in raw water quality, leading
to problems in treating that water to drinking water standards.
These problems can be readily solved at a cost, and are therefore
a further factor to be considered.
The industry is also aware of environmental
concerns regarding the increased mobility of alien species through
water courses, leading to impacts on native species. Examples
include the zander, a predatory fish which was introduced in East
Anglia and is now widespread, the signal crayfish which has reduced
native crayfish populations and the zebra mussel.
In operational terms, using canals for water
supply is much the same as any surface water source. They may
be liable to pollution from agriculture and other sources. They
can also be susceptible to interruption from landslidesNorth
West Water uses the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union
canal to transfer water from the River Dee at Llangollen to Hurleston
treatment works, supplying Crewe and Nantwich. Fortunately the
company has a second abstraction point from the River Dee at Ffroncysyilte,
which was used when the canal was blocked by a landslide.
There is no national grid for water supply in
the UK, for either treated or raw water.
Regional transfers of raw water occur exist
but it is unlikely that a national scheme would be likely or even
Water companies are working to develop more
robust water resources, taking into account climate change impacts,
and water transfers will be considered along with other options.