Send us your water!

The great water debate – which has spluttered on and off all year- splashed back into life this week with reports that the Environment Agency is considering the merits of a nationwide water grid.


The idea, which is being backed by the Institute of Civil Engineers, is simple and attractive. Using a combination of existing canals and new pipelines, water could be pumped from the wetter areas of the country in the North and west to the dry South East. Those championing the scheme believe it will prevent future summer shortages.


But there are many in the water industry and elsewhere who will dismiss this as an unsustainable measure. After all, water isn’t like electricity or gas, which can be transported quickly along pipes and cables. Pumping large quantities of it over long distances would be an energy intensive exercise that wouldn’t look pretty in these environmentally constrained times – and the high costs of moving water around the country would be reflected in our bills.


Plus, while people in the North are still free to use their hosepipes, such a surplus of water can’t be guaranteed and any national grid scheme would therefore require a huge reservoir building scheme – another extremely costly and environmentally sensitive move.


And it’s not even as if the UK is blessed with a geographical topology that would help the scheme succeed. For instance, Los Angeles is supplied with water from many miles away, but the US city is surrounded by mountains and much of this water is brought in under gravity through an aqueduct.


So what is the solution? Others have suggested that for a small island surrounded by water, desalination plants are the answer, but again this would be an energy intensive exercise.


The reality is more mundane. There is perhaps no technological silver bullet. Not, that is, until someone can come up with a way of quickly, cheaply and efficiently repairing pipes in England and Wales, that – according to Ofwat – leak around 3,600 million litres a day.



Jon Excell



Features Editor

The Engineer