Govt holds emergency water summit as UK faces drought
20 February 2012
The Government must get tough on water companies and do more to save water or drought will keep threatening British crops, Friends of the Earth warns today (Monday 20 February 2012), as Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman prepares to hold an emergency summit between companies, wildlife groups and river users.
The green campaigning charity says that the drought crisis has been a long-time coming, as successive Governments have consistently allowed the over-abstraction of water from several English rivers and ignored the problem of leaky old water pipes. Meanwhile, climate change increases the risk of weather extremes like drought happening in future in Britain.
Last week the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology said that average rainfall in the UK so far this winter has been the lowest since 1972, with the Midlands and Anglian regions having had their second driest years in almost a century. The Environment Agency warned that half of all British households could face hosepipe bans unless a long bout of exceptionally heavy rain fell by April.
Friends of the Earth's Senior Nature Campaigner Paul de Zylva said:
"Leaky old water pipes and over-abstraction from rivers mixed with unusually low rainfall this winter is a dangerous - and expensive - concoction.
"It's little surprise we're in drought - successive Governments have ignored expert advice on saving water, burdening farmers and households with the consequences.
"Ministers keep holding water summits but if they are serious about safeguarding water supplies and protecting crops and wildlife, they must urgently stop water companies drying out our rivers and place water saving at the heart of our planning system."
"There are simple steps that all of us can take to save water - from taking shorter showers to turning off the tap when we clean our teeth."
Notes to editor
1. Water Minister, Richard Benyon MP, has suggested that a Water Grid would help overcome drought in the driest areas. The idea has been researched and dismissed by the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE). In 2006 ICE studied the potential to transfer water between regions to meet interim demand in drier, stressed areas, using the already established river network. For example, water from Welsh reservoirs could supply parts of southern England via the river Severn to the Thames. At the time, some media reports mistakenly reported this as an ICE recommendation for a national water grid. In fact, the Chair of ICE's Water Panel David Nickols said that re-distributing water via a national grid is not the answer: "ICE recognises the benefit of moving water around the country through regional transfers, but not on the scale of a national grid. A 'water grid' would be an extremely costly and an unjustified venture. Water is a very heavy resource to move around and it cannot be thought of in the same way as distributing electricity."
2. The Government is due to introduce a draft Water Bill in the coming months. Friends of the Earth wants this to include the steps necessary to take heed of the scientific advice given by the Met Office and Environment Agency about changing our attitude toward and misuse of water in farming and in the planning of our towns and cities.
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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust
Last modified: Feb 2012