April 3, 2013 at 8:59 am
An alarming number of beaches around the UK have been stripped of their ‘excellent’ water quality rating. If you are heading to the coast this summer, check that it’s safe to swim first.
The number of beaches failing to reach even minimum water standards, as well as those recommended for bathing, has fallen. The north-west was worst hit with only three beaches reaching an ‘excellent’ standard. Meanwhile in Wales, 30 beaches were demoted from ‘excellent’.
Out of 754 beaches investigated by the Marine Conservations Society (MCS) only 403 were recommended as suitable for bathing, a drop of 113 from last year.
The reason for the rise in pollution is last year’s heavy summer rainfall, which washed pollution from agriculture and cities alike into the sea. Record rainfall and flooding led to overburdened overflow pipes and the displacement of raw sewage directly into the sea.
An increase in viruses and bacteria living in sea water, including E. coli, presents a health risk to bathers. By ignoring water safety warnings, bathers are risking ear, nose and throat infections, or even gastroenteritis.
More stringent EU laws on water quality will come into action in 2015 and unless drastic action is taken, the UK will lose more of its beach resorts, warned the MCS.
The MCS has outlined the need for effective monitoring of overflow pipes and for farmers, communities, the water industry and councils to work together.
A single but important caveat is that the data for the 2013 report was in fact collected in 2012. If we have a drier spring this year, many of those beaches could see a notable improvement in water quality by late summer.
February 20, 2013 at 2:54 pm
With water bills set to rise by 3.5%, UK customers who are increasingly struggling to pay for basic utilities won’t fail to notice the recent news surrounding six major water companies.
A new controversy has just erupted following the damning conclusions of a report by the not-for-profit group Corporate Watch; it has revealed that Northumbrian, Yorkshire, Anglian, Thames, South Staffs and Sutton and East Surrey water companies have been avoiding paying tax by using elaborate financial arrangements, in a similar fashion to Google, Starbucks and Amazon. These companies borrow money intra-group at favourable rates from tax haven based companies and pay the interest without deduction of tax.
The report reveals other controversial facts, such as the excessive profits and bonuses earned by the CEOs of water companies and the leakage each day of more than three billion litres from pipes badly in need of modernisation (most of the infrastructure dates from the Victorian period).
Since water companies were privatised in 1989, their efficiency and ethics have been questioned numerous times. This new scandal has led David Hall, director of the Public Services International Research Unit, a group that researches the effects of privatisation on utilities and healthcare companies, to urge for a campaign to re-nationalise water companies. Publicly owned companies would be able to borrow money at much cheaper rates than is the case at the moment – as the State is considered a safer investment – and bills would be cut by about £80 per year.
February 10, 2013 at 2:53 pm
There has been yet more bad news this week for cash-strapped householders who have seen the cost of everything from energy bills to a pint of milk rise recently. Now it is the turn of the water companies to announce an increase in bills. The rise of 3.5%, which will take effect from 1 April and apply for twelve months, is above the rate of inflation.
Ofwat’s chief executive, Regina Finn, accepts that households are under huge pressure but pointed out in a recent radio interview that in order for a safe and secure water supply to be delivered massive investment was needed.
The current increase will result in an investment of £1,000 for each household in England and Wales, all part of a five-year plan which will see £25 billion invested over the next five years.
The average water and sewerage bill in England and Wales will now be £388, although there are of course large regional differences. The largest increase will be borne by those in the South East (£23) whilst those in the South West will actually see their bills drop by £40. This apparent anomaly is a result of a government subsidy of £50 a year for each South West Water customer. The subsidy is aimed at countering the injustice of 3% of the population paying for the maintenance of 33% of the country’s bathing waters.
Unlike energy bills, there is no way for a householder to shop around in order to minimise their water bills. However, if there are more bedrooms in your house than occupants you are likely to make savings if you have a water meter installed.
January 31, 2013 at 11:15 am
If you are planning to stay in your property long-term, installing a rainwater harvesting system along with switching to a metered supply could save you money, not to mention impact the environment positively.
The amount of rainwater that you can collect depends on the size of your property, the roof size and shape, and of course the weather. Nevertheless, an average UK house is estimated to be able to collect 100 cubic mls per annum, enough to make a dent in those bills, even when offset against the cost of installation.
The means of collection and use can vary from an extremely simple water-butt on your roof to a complex, professionally installed system including underground tanks and (if you wish to drink it) a UV filter.
Untreated rainwater can be used for a variety of household needs, for example washing the car, clothes, flushing toilets and watering the garden.
The wider environmental benefits of rainwater harvesting include the fact that it doesn’t need to be treated beforehand like drinking water and so saves on energy intensive chemical treatments and distribution processes. Actually over 80% of an average household’s water needs can be met with untreated rainwater harvesting and it is superior to mains water in several cases. For example plants prefer it as rainwater contains no chlorine, domestic appliances benefit from the lack of limescale and as rainwater is soft, less detergent is required to wash clothes.
There is evidence that harvesting rainwater could help to save Britain’s wetlands, currently suffering from over-extraction by water companies and reduce run-off during torrential downpours that led to the type of flooding we saw in 2012.
All in, the reasons to harvest rainwater are manifold and saving money for yourself is just the first.
Finally, how do you switch to a metered supply? Simple, if you are not on a metered supply already, then your water provider is obliged by law to install one which seems an excellent reason to make this a priority in 2013.
January 25, 2013 at 11:14 am
Even though most of the earth’s surface is covered in water, only one percent of this is freshwater. With the UK among those countries now facing alternate dry and wet spells, more and more people are looking at ways to conserve the most precious and arguably the most wasted of natural resources, water.
In terms of recycling water within the home, the watchword of the moment is grey water. This refers to mains water that is no longer suitable for drinking, due to the fact that it has been contaminated by prior use. It is far from useless, however, and can be recycled easily. Water from bathroom sinks, showers and baths all counts as grey water. Depending on the type of detergents and washing up liquids you use, water from the washing machine and the kitchen sink may also be recycled but you must avoid products containing harmful chemicals such as boron.
Perhaps the simplest form of water recycling is the extension of gutters coming from the roof in order to water the garden. Alternatively you could divert that water into a barrel and attach a hose to it. Chlorine free, it’s even better than mains water for the garden.
The next stage in water recycling requires a bit of plumbing. There are now commercially available units that take water from bathroom sinks, bath and shower and divert it to the toilet cistern ready for flushing. More advanced systems collect all grey water in a separate tank and re-route it as required; you can even install a UV filter to render harvested rain water fit for drinking.
However, before we get into septic tanks, sand filtration systems and rainwater harvesting we need to change our attitude to water, all too often seen as a free and endless resource. Once we do that then we can put into play all kinds of simple ideas to conserve and recycle water. For example, wash your vegetables in a basin then pour that onto the plants, do the same with water from cleaning a fish tank. If you have been boiling vegetables, then the nutrients and flavour make for a great stock. Stack your plants so that the excess run-off from one goes to feed another. These are all simple and ingenious ideas that add up to a healthier environment, and bank account too.
January 21, 2013 at 11:12 am
2012 turned out to be the UK’s second wettest year in recorded history and statistics are pointing to a continuation of this kind of excessive rainfall. The top 5 wettest years since recording began (1910) have all occurred since the turn of the century. It’s not just the UK that’s affected either; 2012 saw severe flooding in Thailand, India and China.
Ironically the wettest April in recorded history came hot on the heels of one of the driest March periods which had prompted hosepipe bans in the south east due to low groundwater levels. At the beginning of 2012 everybody was talking about water shortages, at the beginning of 2013 farmers are operating in flooded areas and the picture has essentially reversed. The situation it seems, swings from drought to flood with alarming rapidity; this is a new situation for the UK and one it is going to have to take steps to manage.
Those most affected by the unpredictable weather are of course Britain’s farmers who struggled last year to make use of inundated fields. Their woes continue into 2013 as they face exacerbated feed prices due to these same shortages. The financial cost to the agricultural industry is estimated to be over one billion pounds. Consumers obviously feel their pain through an increase in prices, scarcity of certain items and a drop in quality. Passenger train routes were also severely affected in the south west with many services completely suspended at peak time, right before Christmas.
Both independent experts and the Government state that UK water needs to be managed more effectively. As we are now facing both an excess and a lack of water due to unpredictable weather patterns solutions lie in more effective storage and drainage. We can expect to see widespread investment in such things as reservoirs, sophisticated urban drainage and domestic water harvesting in the home.
August 26, 2012 at 12:38 pm
Researchers at the University of Sheffield have announced that they have invented a new device which improves the practice of detecting water leaks under the ground. If water companies start to use the device it could help them to fix the leaks which are responsible for so much wastage across the UK every year.
The new device is said to be able to detect water leaks with greater accuracy than previous devices, with an accuracy range of within one metre in iron pipes. They are said to be even more accurate when it comes to detecting leaks in plastic pipes.
Whereas the current devices use microphones to listen for leaking water underneath the ground, the new device uses pressure waves. This is said to be a more accurate technique which could reduce the level of false readings and make the water companies more efficient at fixing leaks.
The device has already been tested by Yorkshire Water which has announced that it will be making a decision about whether to use it on a more permanent basis.
The device was developed by Professor Stephen Beck, who works in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield. He said that leaks are very common in the old iron pipes which have been in use for over a century in some cases, and that newer plastic pipes can also develop leaks.
The new device should help to make detecting these leaks a lot quicker, and this could help to save water companies time and money, ultimately leading to less wastage of water across the UK.
July 13, 2012 at 3:22 pm
After a summer of record rainfall across Britain, the last four water companies to have their hosepipe bans in place have finally lifted them, confirming that the drought is officially over – for this summer at least.
From now on, six million more water customers will be able to use their hosepipes as normal, bringing relief to many who had been struggling with the restrictions.
South East Water, Veolia Water Central, Veolia Water Southeast and Sutton and East Surrey Water are the final four water companies to lift their bans, which came into force back in April following two abnormally dry winters.
But since then record rainfall across the UK has meant that underground resources have been recharged, which is a rare occurrence at this time of the year, and the restrictions can be eased.
Since the bans came into force we have experienced our wettest April since records began in the UK, and double the normal amount of rain fell in June. Indeed, many areas have now been affected by flooding in recent weeks caused by the torrential rain, shifting the focus away from the drought.
The other water companies to impose bans in April – Southern Water, Anglian Water and Thames Water – lifted them back in June.
The lifting of the final four bans was a surprise to many in the industry who thought that they would stay in place all the way through the summer.
But despite the lifting of the bans, people are still being urged to use their water very carefully. Another dry winter could cause serious problems again and lead to another drought next summer, with the prospect of yet more hosepipe bans.
July 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm
A commons select committee has just announced that more action is needed – and fast – if we are to protect the water resources of England.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee, which was chaired by Anne McIntosh, said that more ambitious targets were needed to encourage a greater number of households to install water meters.
As well as improving targets for water meters, the select committee also said that new reforms which control how water is extracted from rivers should be sped up because some rivers are already drying up.
The committee released its conclusions after analysing the government’s white paper on the issue of the UK’s water use over the coming years in the face of population growth and climate change.
Many parts of England have been affected badly by drought this year, and the large water suppliers have only just brought their hosepipe bans to an end. However, at the same time severe rainfall across the country has led to serious flooding.
As well as suggesting clearer targets for water meters, another area which it said needed urgent attention was greater pressure to encourage all customers to pay their bills. Currently, customers who do not pay their bills are adding an extra £15 to every household’s water bill each year.
However, water minister Richard Benyon said in response to the report that he did not believe a “one-size-fits-all solution is the best way forward”, and instead said that “companies should work with their customers to find the solution that works best in their local area”.
June 22, 2012 at 3:21 pm
Three of the largest water companies in the UK recently lifted their hosepipe bans, allowing millions of people to start watering their garden plants and washing their cars with greater ease once again.
The companies in question are Southern Water, Thames Water and Anglian Water, which together provide water to 15 million people in the south and east of England.
Restrictions came into place in April, but no sooner had they been enforced than huge amounts of rainfall arrived. Both April and May were very wet months, and heavy rain at the beginning of June also helped to ease the pressure on the water companies. The large amount of rain also reduced the demand for water by gardeners.
However, not all companies are lifting the hosepipe bans just yet. Sutton East Surrey Water, South East Water, Veolia Water Southeast and Veolia Water Central are keeping the bans in place for the time being, and the reason for this is that they depend more upon groundwater reserves than on reservoirs.
The bans came into force following two excessively dry winters, and it is now thought that some places around the UK are going to need a very wet winter indeed to recover fully.
Despite the recent wet months, the risk of a serious drought has still not gone away, and next year we could be back in the same situation if the winter is dry once again.
Richard Aylard from Thames Water said that “with groundwater levels still low and the possibility of a third successive dry winter, we still need to be careful”. He pleaded with customers to use their water very sparingly whilst the situation was still precarious.