Thames Water may increase bills by £29

August 14, 2013 at 9:19 am

If you are one of Thames Water’s 14 million customers, you could be in for a nasty surprise. The water company has asked Ofwat for permission to increase bills by £29 to help with the spiralling costs of the “super sewer” (or Thames Tideway Tunnel to give it its correct name) and to take account of the high level of bad debts arising because people are struggling to pay their utility bills.

If agreement is given to Thames Water’s proposals householders will see the increase in their bills next April, although the water company has asked Ofwat if the increase can be spread out over a number of years. The average water bill is currently £354, meaning that the proposed increase works out at around 8%.

Ofwat has said that it recognises the fact that householders are already finding their finances stretched because of the economic downturn and that the increases will only be allowed if they are “fully justified”.

Thames Water customers are already a disgruntled bunch. The water company made profits of £549 million last year, paid dividends of £231 million and boss Martin Baggs received a package worth £1.1 million. Meanwhile hard-up consumers saw their bills rise by 6.7% and many suffered the indignity of having their homes flooded by sewage.

Sadly for those in the Thames Water area there is no way of shopping around and changing supplier. One thing that can be done to reduce water bills, however, is to consider having a water meter installed. Generally speaking, if there are fewer people living in the house than there are bedrooms it will be advantageous to have a meter.

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Brits pouring water down the drain

July 15, 2013 at 4:10 pm

The Energy Saving Trust (EST) Foundation has recently carried out a study of 86,000 homes and found that of the 9 billion litres of water used in the UK each day, a quarter is used taking a shower and almost another quarter (22%) is used in flushing the toilet. By shortening the time we spend under the shower even by just one minute (the average shower lasts seven and a half minutes) we could all save money and still be clean. It is also possible to reduce the amount of water used when flushing the toilet by fitting a dual-flush cistern or asking your water company for a free water-saving “hippo”.

Another area for savings is filling the kettle. 95% of us boil the kettle each day and 40% of us boil it at least five times a day. Three out of four of us are guilty of boiling more water than we actually need. Overfilling kettles and then pouring away the water we don’t need costs an annual £68 million nationally.

There has long been debate about whether it takes more or less water to wash dishes manually rather than using a dishwasher. The average household washes dishes by hand ten times a week and uses the dishwasher three times a week. It seems, however, that larger families could save water by using the dishwasher more often, provided of course the dishwasher is energy efficient and only used with full loads.

For lots of tips on how to cut down your water consumption at home and at work visit the Waterwise website.

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Beach water quality worsens around the UK

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.

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Water companies avoiding taxes

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.

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Water bills to increase by 3.5%

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.

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Metred systems and rainwater collection could save you money

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.

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Domestic water recycling ideas

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.

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2012 was UK’s second wettest in recorded history

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.

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New device for detecting water leaks invented

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.

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Hosepipe bans come to an end

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.

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