Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Water UK (IW 41)



  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 world—last 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 environmental quality.

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 country—and in some areas these are quite extensive—for 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 energy—with 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 distances—which 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 regionally.

  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 landslides—North 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 desirable.

  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.

September 2000

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