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Drinking Water Supplies on Brink of Collapse Due to Water Company Underinvestment

New investigative work carried out by Greenpeace Unearthed has revealed that across many regions of the UK, the security of our water supply came close to collapse during last year’s summer drought.

In order to keep water supplies flowing, a number of water companies were openly admitting that they would have no option to ride roughshod over environmental protection regulations in order to keep supplies running. – We saw Yorkshire Water actually end up implementing such a plan last year, disregarding Special Area of Conservation regulations in place on a number of rivers to keep water supplies flowing.  One of the most shocking revelations shows that to maintain water supply to no less than over 160,000 people, Southern Water’s emergency drought plans involved raiding the precious chalk aquifers of the Rivers Test and Itchen, putting the salmon population in these rivers at risk of extinction.

Worse still, the investigations found that had it not been for this summer’s recent unprecedented wet July experienced across most of the nation, we could have seen plans could have already been implemented to provide various areas of the UK (such as in South West Water’s catchment) with bottled water as a result of severe shortages of clean drinking water.

The blight on our rivers and beaches caused by the pollution spewing out of our failing sewage system has been commanding front page headlines over recent months. However, the years of under-investment in the security of our water supply is the other direct consequence of the impact of the privatisation of our water industry. Whilst shareholders were happily stripping tens of billions of pounds of dividends out of our water companies (whilst saddling them with huge debt burdens in order to double down on these obscene financial returns) not one new reservoir was built in England in the years since water privatisation. This is despite population growth of over 30% in some UK regions creating huge stress on an antiquated system, which leaks a third of its water each day due to decades of poor maintenance and negligible investment. 

Commenting in the Unearthed report River Action’s Chair and Founder Charles Watson is quoted: 

“It’s extraordinary what these documents reveal – the country dodged a bullet. It looks like the system was about to crash in some places. The situation last year also has a knock-on effect – if we had another summer like that, I think we would have been looking at a national calamity.

There has been a complete failure to invest in, and create a decent regulatory system, for what is the most essential service the public can expect. How have these companies been able to take on huge levels of debt and distribute huge dividends to shareholders to only then come within a hair’s breadth of having water supplies shut down?

The environmental consequences of some of the water companies’ plans could have been horrendous. Protected areas were in danger of being compromised and the issue with Southern Water could have had direct consequences on the salmon migration. The company was trying to take water from these precious chalk streams because they failed to invest in creating a sustainable business.”

For the full story, check out Unearthed and The Times.

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