Water shortage if we don't act now

PUBLISHED: 11:18 09 March 2006 | UPDATED: 13:17 04 May 2010

Westminster report by Jim Paice MP for SE Cambridgeshire IT may seem early in the year to be talking about water shortages and hosepipe bans but after two consecutive winters of below average rainfall the current water resource status for our region is p

Westminster report by Jim Paice MP for SE Cambridgeshire

IT may seem early in the year to be talking about water shortages and hosepipe bans but after two consecutive winters of below average rainfall the current water resource status for our region is "potential drought".

According to the Environment Agency, in the central Anglian region, which includes Ely, "If the water resources status does not improve, it may be of concern for public water supply, agriculture and the environment." This warning should be taken seriously.

The problem is even worse in the south-east, where some areas have less rain per person than Sudan and Ethiopia, and where one water company has been given Government approval to install compulsory water meters.

It was inevitable that Mr Prescott's plans for housing in the south-east would exacerbate a crisis in demand for water. His obsession with massive development in our area will have similar consequences, yet the Government has consistently failed to acknowledge it in drawing up its house-building proposals.

Given that we are the driest region in the country, with rainfall less than 65 per cent of that for England and Wales, have the fastest growing population and a high density of wetlands and other water dependant habitats, water resources management is particularly important in East Anglia. That is without the impact of continued house-building at the rate proposed by the Government.

I have been assured by Anglian Water that there are currently no plans to introduce compulsory metering. This region already has the highest proportion of consumers on voluntary meters but compulsion may have to be considered if winters continue to be dry and the high rate of housing development is maintained.

There is also a third factor behind water shortages, and that is rising water use. Each person uses an average of 33 -35 gallons of water per day - 50 per cent more than we used 25 years ago. This increase in use has added to the pressure on supply and underlines the importance of using water wisely, conserving it through simple measures such as turning off the tap whilst brushing your teeth.

Of course, if such simple advice isn't heeded to mitigate the effects of low rainfall, compulsory meters may become necessary. If this is the case, it is essential that there should be no great cost to consumers to install water meters, and that adequate, flexible arrangements are in place to ensure that the vulnerable and least well off do not suffer as a result of the change.

There is also an obligation on the Government to take into account water resources before embarking on major house-building programmes.

Everyone agrees that we need more affordable homes in the region in order to meet genuine local need, but it would be irresponsible for the Government to ignore existing pressures on the water supply.

The Environment Agency has proposed to the recent public examination in Ely that all the new houses should be built with dual water systems so that we can recycle water for some uses, such as flushing toilets. I have a great deal of sympathy with the idea but inevitably developers say it would put the cost up. For that matter so too would be the inclusion of renewable power, such as solar panels; in both cases, though, the running costs of the home would fall. If we really care about the environment we will have to take some tough decisions.

Events in the South East - where rapid development, low rainfall and high demand have combined to drain reservoirs to critically low levels - should be a lesson to John Prescott that his housing plans are unsustainable. But there is no sign that this warning is being heeded and growing evidence that the half a million new homes planned for this region will not just put serious pressure on our communities, transport and local services, but also on our water supply.

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