WaGCG : Wantage and Grove Campaign Group
Wantage and Grove Campaign Group (WaGCG)

Column 10th August 2022

When is a drought not a drought?

We have a shortage of fresh water.

The climate emergency is increasing the temperatures and reducing the rainfall in the UK – particularly in the South East.

One of the solutions which is being promoted around the country is more reservoirs.

This will, of course, increase the pressure to build the giant reservoir between East Hanney, Marcham, Drayton and Steventon.

The Water Companies are talking about building ‘resistance into the system’.

One of the ways in which Thames Water has done that is with the Thames Gateway Water Treatment Works completed in 2012.

This is a desalination plant on the Thames Estuary which should be able to produce 150 million litres of drinking water a day.

Yet it is only to be operated during a drought, apparently and we haven't had a drought since 2012.

So this desalination plant has never been used in anger.

Thames Water switches it on for three months every year just to check everything is in order, but otherwise it's mothballed.

You would think that as we now have a drought, it would be time to use it.

Apparently not.

In a statement Thames Water said:
"Due to further necessary planned work the plant is currently out of service.”

"Our teams are working as fast as possible to get it ready for use early next year, to achieve protection to our supplies if we were to have another dry winter.”

Industry insiders say Thames Water gambled on placing the facility where it hoped to cut operation costs because the seawater, mixed with freshwater from the Thames, would be less salty and therefore less difficult to process. 

But the company failed to factor in that the water would be at different salinity levels at different times of the tide, rendering the plant unreliable for producing a steady supply of drinking water. 

If they can’t even get a desalination plant (tried and tested technology) to work properly, what hope do we have of them building an above ground reservoir using untried techniques?

And as we are in one of the driest parts of the country, where would they get the 150 million tons of water from to fill a giant reservoir?

Rain is still falling in the wetter west of England and further north so the initial idea of planning a pipeline to move water from the River Severn to the Thames instead of building a reservoir still seems best to me.

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