Select Committee on Science and Technology Eighth Report


Friday 10 February 2006

1. Members visiting Essex and Suffolk Water and Anglian Water were Lord Lewis of Newnham, Baroness Perry of Southwark, Baroness Platt of Writtle, the Earl of Selborne (Chairman), Baroness Sharp of Guildford, Lord Taverne and Lord Whitty. In attendance were Tom Wilson (Clerk) and Professor Richard Ashley (Specialist Adviser).


2. The Committee was welcomed to Essex and Suffolk Water's offices at Hanningfield water treatment works by Martin Lunn (Scientific and Water Resources Manager, Essex and Suffolk Water) and Dave Harker (Water Resources and Licensing Manager, Anglian Water Services). Also present was Graham Wilson, Strategic Planning Manager at the Environment Agency.

3. Mr Harker opened by explaining that the Anglian region was the driest region in the UK, receiving only half the national average rainfall each year. Therefore, water had to be transferred over long distances and, because the terrain was relatively flat, this led to high pumping costs. The increase in the volume of water supplied, though, had been successfully addressed since the late 1980s through leakage control—most importantly—and the promotion of metering and water efficiency measures. There had also been a gradual reduction in industrial demand.

4. However, the projected population growth in the Anglian region and the threat of climate change presented ongoing challenges. These might be addressed in a number of ways. For example, there was significant potential for a greater level of water efficiency in homes but there was currently no way of securing this change; it was felt that the building regulations should be toughened accordingly by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. It was also important for water and wastewater infrastructure to "lead" development so that water issues were given due consideration at the earliest stages of planning—particularly in the proposed "growth areas".

5. Another issue was the proposed sustainability reductions in water abstraction under the Habitats Directive. There was concern about the use of the precautionary principle in the Review of Consents by the Environment Agency, with the burden being on the abstractors to prove that their abstractions do not adversely impact upon the Natura 2000 sites. However, Mr Wilson did note that each site had its own research project and that the review was taking place on a site-by-site basis, so decisions would not be taken merely on the basis of generic criteria.

6. Subsequently, Mr Lunn discussed the action being taken by the two water companies to prepare for the future. Although he noted that initially there would be a dip in demand for water in Essex and Suffolk Water's area, due to the amount saved from industry closures exceeding the additional resource needed to service the growing population, the increase in demand would soon resume.

7. Therefore, Essex and Suffolk Water was preparing through the so-called Abberton Trilogy scheme at a cost of £80m. The first part of the Trilogy involved varying the Denver and Blackdyke licences in Norfolk so as to reduce the residual flow to the Wash. The second part involved the construction of additional pipelines to transfer water from Norfolk to Essex. The final part of the Trilogy involved raising the dam at Abberton Reservoir in Essex by 3.2 metres, allowing its storage capacity to increase by 40 percent. It was particularly notable that planning for this scheme had commenced in 1993 yet it would not be operational until 2014/15, not least because the company had been compelled to show the environmental implications in great detail and simultaneously to demonstrate that no other option would have been more environmentally-friendly. This highlighted the long timescales involved in securing new water resources.

8. Anglian Water was looking at constructing a new reservoir in Lincolnshire and at increased water transfers from the River Trent in the longer term. In the short term, an extension was being planned to Wing water treatment works at Rutland Water, increasing the treatment capacity by 90 megalitres per day with the result that approximately 200,000 new properties could be supplied. However, Rutland Water was a Special Protection Area for birds, so a mitigation package had been proposed to help compensate for potential environmental impacts on surrounding habitats.

9. The next presentation, on water efficiency, came from Clare Ridgewell, Demand Planning Manager at Essex and Suffolk Water. There were a number of factors affecting the successful promotion of water efficiency. First, in terms of economics, it was difficult to measure the savings and therefore to establish a cost-benefit case. It was a risky option compared with resource development because of the dependence on human behaviour. Second, there was a challenge in persuading planners and developers to adopt best practice, and there was potentially a need to provide market transformation incentives to manufacturers and their customers. Third, the sustainability of water efficiency improvements relied upon permanent customer acceptance of water wise behaviour, which again might require incentives. Finally, there were technological issues: rainwater harvesting was fine as long as it rained and greywater recycling was practical as long as the infrastructure was maintained.

10. Ms Ridgewell then turned to some of Essex and Suffolk Water's research projects. At the Heybridge social housing development, the company had installed point-of-use meters (i.e. on every water outlet) in 24 houses. Of these houses, 12 had been made more water efficient through the installation of smaller baths, spray taps and various other devices, at a total cost of £50 per house. There was also some greywater recycling. The other 12 houses had been used for control purposes in the experiment, which ran for a total of 15 months.

11. The greywater recycling had presented significant problems, with the filters becoming blocked and the pumps failing, so this part of the experiment had been abandoned. However, the water efficient devices had resulted in significant savings of around 100 litres per day per household, equating to a 13 percent saving per person (as compared to the amount that would have been used in the equivalent non-water efficient devices) or a five percent saving per person as a proportion of total water use. These savings could have been even greater had water efficient washing machines been provided.

12. However, some customers were not happy about the smaller baths or the spray taps. In general, it was felt that developers would not voluntarily install this kind of device because water efficient homes were not saleable in the way that energy efficient homes were becoming. Customer attitudes would need to change if this situation was to improve. More successful had been Essex and Suffolk Water's water audits, which involved the installation of items such as cistern displacement devices, water efficient showerheads and water butts, as well as a supply pipe leakage test. Ms Ridgewell felt that the key was altering customer behaviour—for example, they were trialling a water bill that compared each household's water usage against the average—but it was important to focus on minimising water wastage rather than dictating lifestyles.

13. Linda Berkshire, Water Efficiency Officer at Anglian Water, described how the company was currently involved in a three year project on over 10,000 households in Peterborough which had aimed to promote sustainable living in terms of energy and water use as well as waste recycling. The houses had not been built to be sustainable but the intention was to modify residents' behaviour with the intention of embedding environmentally sustainable behaviour. This included the provision of a pack of sustainable products to each household. This experiment was felt to be extremely valuable because it was concerned with cutting water use in existing homes, which obviously far outnumbered the amount of new homes.

14. The meeting then turned to water metering and pricing. Essex and Suffolk Water had encouraged greater take-up of meters—even offering a switchback option to allay customers' suspicions—but despite initial success, the increase in metering penetration was now levelling off around the 30 percent mark. The company did exercise its right to insist on meter installation in houses undergoing a change in ownership, but even then only about 75 percent of houses were meterable because of issues such as common supply pipes and shared water tanks. Another point of interest was that the meters were out of sight so it was very difficult for customers to track the water use day-to-day. Moreover, the existing mechanical meters could not be read often enough to make rising block tariffs work effectively, mainly because there was no remote reading facility. In short, the company felt, more sophisticated meters were needed if they were to make a genuine and long-lasting difference to water use.

15. The final topic of the day was water recycling. Mr Lunn explained Essex and Suffolk Water's Langford wastewater recycling scheme to the Committee, noting that whereas all treated wastewater had previously been released into the tidal Blackwater Estuary, up to 40 megalitres per day was now sent for further treatment—nutrient removal and UV disinfection—before being discharged into the River Chelmer four kilometres upstream of the water treatment works. This meant that up to 40 megalitres of water which was previously being put directly into the sea each day was now being made available for water supply and environmental flows. Interestingly, the recycled water was of a better quality than the river water itself, and the only reason that it was put back into the river rather than being piped directly to Hanningfield Reservoir was to satisfy public misgivings. In general, it was felt that many wastewater treatment plants were discharging treated effluent into the sea when it could easily be re-used.

16. Anglian Water had a different type of scheme for re-using wastewater, whereby treated wastewater was supplied to Flag Fen gas-fired power station in place of potable mains water. There was felt to be potential for more such schemes, thus helping to minimise unnecessary use of potable water.

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Prepared 6 June 2006