Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
TUESDAY 30 NOVEMBER 1999
60. Could we look at the water treatment scenario
and the capital costs and also the operating costs of some of
the filtration equipment which has already been installed and
would need to be installed to treat pesticides and particularly
nitrates. Could you give us an idea of the amount of money we
are talking about there, the amount of progress already achieved?
(Dr Breach) Certainly. It is perhaps worth reminding
the Committee that the standard we operate to in water supply
terms is actually a uniform standard of one part in 10 billion;
it is a very strict standard. It has recently been reaffirmed
by the European Union; it is an EC standard and effectively it
is a surrogate for zero. It is a very low level. We are not talking
here about toxicity based standards; they are uniform, effectively
zero, standards. Over the last 10 years as an industry we have
put in a lot of advanced treatment, particularly in river derived
sources where the main problem comes from. That is mainly activated
carbon filters (activated charcoal) and/or a substance called
ozone which breaks down pesticides. It is fair to say that those
treatments have other benefits. They are not solely there for
pesticides and therefore it is difficult to give a cost just for
pesticides. The figure we quote is up to £1 billion for that
advanced treatment in total, a fair percentage of which would
be attributable directly to removing pesticides. It is a very
61. A fair percentage means what?
(Dr Breach) Maybe three quarters or so; it would depend
plant to plant. At some plants it is the only reason for putting
it in, at other plants there are different reasons. It is difficult
to generalise. The primary driver for the investment was pesticides
and there is an ongoing substantial operating cost which again
will vary a lot from plant to plant. We are talking many tens
of millions, possibly running up into the low hundreds. It depends
a lot on where and when the plant is used; very substantial costs.
62. How far down the road are we with that programme,
as you have spent about £1 billion already?
(Dr Breach) It is essentially complete. I have some
figures from the Drinking Water Inspector's report who independently
checks our performance. The figures for 1998 were in total 650,000
determinations, that is individual measurements for pesticides,
of which 77 exceeded the standard. That is an extremely high compliance
rate and in fact people are even working on the 77 now. The programme
is essentially complete but one of the issues for us in protecting
water resources is that we do not want resources which are currently
uncontaminated, particularly ground waters, to become contaminated
because that would trigger more investment. Our priority is to
protect the level of existing pesticide occurrence in water, not
letting it get worse and then by working with agrochemical industry
progressively reduce the existing pollution in the water resources
we have to deal with.
63. The initiative Wessex water set up for paying
farmers an additional supplement if they took out MAFF's organic
farming scheme. How effective a contribution could this make?
Of course it has been slightly thwarted by the Government's capping
of the organic funding.
(Dr Breach) I actually checked with the company involved
because we know them. It was introduced for nitrates and was not
driven by pesticides. It was a very limited scheme where they
used funds from ENTRUST (Landfill Tax Credit Scheme) money to
stimulate organic farming around their boreholes (their ground
water extractions). Of course the ongoing continuation of those
organic schemes is subject to a number of economic support schemes.
It presupposes that organic farming would solve all the problems.
In my company area, which is the whole of the Midlands, effectively
the whole of the Midlands is a water supply catchment and it is
just not credible, at least at the current rate of progress, that
organic farming alone would be tenable across the whole of the
Midlands or indeed other parts of the UK where water is abstracted
64. What you are saying is that you think the
current level of pesticides use is not a particular problem, given
that you have already taken the preventative measure to deal with
(Dr Breach) No, I am not saying that.
I think there is an ongoing operating cost which I referred to.
We certainly want to protect the resources not affected and our
long-term goal, in fact not just the long-term goal of the UK
industry but the European water industry with which I work, is
over a progressive period to get to a state where we do not have
to rely on expensive treatment to supply water which meets the
pesticide standard. That clearly is a long-term goal,but we believe
we should be working towards that. We think it is achievable by
the existing control measures, perhaps enhanced. There are regulatory
controls on pesticide use which can be effective. I mentioned
the atrazine example earlier and there are several voluntary measures,
good practice, which are being worked on at the moment and you
have heard some already.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed,
we are most grateful for your evidence, which we enjoyed receiving.