How politicians could end droughts FOREVER: But they don't want to
They'd rather ration your water than do some simple sums
City Hall says 'talk to the Mayor' - Mayor says 'this is one for City Hall'
So there is no shortage of water worldwide and there is no drought in England or in London. Supplies of water on this planet are not actually without end - even the oceans aren't truly limitless - but they are infinite in a practical sense. There is no possible excuse for rationing the domestic water supply of anyone who lives in a developed economy with access to a water-grid connection. The fantasy problems of "virtual water" and "water imports" aren't within the scope of this article (though they are also the product of Green extremists and a total failure to grasp numbers4).
The problem of water rationing is political, not environmental or technical. Politics varies around the world, of course. But this article uses London as a test case, so it makes sense to examine London politics to finish up - all the more so as London assembly and mayoral elections are imminent.
Of the two main candidates, Labour's Ken Livingstone has made himself perfectly clear by opposing even the limited capabilities of Beckton. He stands for needless water rationing.
But what's the position of incumbent Mayor Boris Johnson, the only other person at all likely to win the election? He gave Beckton the nod, though only on the basis of it being an "emergency measure".
We got in touch with Boris' campaign a fortnight ago, suggesting that the Mayor might like to say something along the lines of "vote for me and I'll put an end to drought FOREVER". A deafening silence ensued.
Having chased up Boris' team several times, we finally got a quote today. A spokesman said: "This is a matter for City Hall," meaning that it was something that the permanent civil service should decide, not politicians.
We had actually anticipated something like this, and funnily enough we had already asked City Hall why rationing was considered acceptable when Beckton was shut down - and why on Earth we weren't building more Becktons instead of digging up pipes and preparing the public for more rationing next year.
City Hall were similarly reluctant to answer, but they eventually told us:
There are a number of queries here that are really for Thames Water to address. In terms of the mayor's views, because we are bound currently by pre-election guidelines, I cannot provide more ...
We were also referred to The Mayor's Water Strategy, which again describes desalination as "an emergency measure".
To sum up, then: nobody is offering you a choice on this. There is complete consensus among the governing classes, elected and unelected alike, that Londoners (and Britons more generally) will soon face stringent water rationing in order to save a small fraction of a single percentage point on carbon emissions. In other words for no good reason at all, even if you believe carbon emissions urgently need to be reduced.
It's hard to avoid the conclusion that scientific and technical illiteracy is becoming so rampant as to make democracy an unworkable form of government. ®
1Groundwater extraction in London by heavy industry had lowered the city's water table to no less than 88m below sea level over a long period up to the 1960s. As industry has departed, this has risen to 35-40m, enough to cause concern that Tube tunnels and other vital underground infrastructure might start to flood. In west London, where not much groundwater is extracted for public supplies, the level is still rising - though the problem is no longer thought to be urgent.
If no water was taken from the Thames and the Lee - more than half of the city's supplies are taken from high up in these two rivers, later to be discharged much further down the waterways in various forms - it's a certainty that they would burst their banks and cause surface flooding much more often.
Most of the figures in this article come from the Environment Agency's State of the Environment for London 2011 report.
2It should be noted that water produced from Beckton (or anywhere else) can be stored for use later, by putting it into reservoirs or the North London Aquifer Recharge Scheme (NLARS), a system of boreholes which use subterranean aquifers in effect as underground reservoirs. Beckton could have been running at full pelt since it was commissioned in 2010: if NLARS and the reservoirs aren't full to the brim right now, Thames Water has only itself to blame.
3Leakage today is down to 600 million litres a day, meaning that London actually needs supplies increased by half again over what people use. Nonetheless, it has cost billions to cut that figure from 900 Ml/day: in other words to achieve savings of 300 Ml/day. Two Becktons, able to supply that same 300 Ml/day, would have cost only £500m to build and perhaps £20-30m annually for electricity - leaving billions more to spend, which could have built many extra desalination plants to make the city truly droughtproof by now.
4We are told that "I had a cup of coffee on the way to work: 140 litres of water were needed for that single cup". Assuming this to be true, then, power requirements to desalinate that much seawater would have been a tad under one kWh - enough to increase the cup's price by a few pence and with similarly inconsequential consequences to its energy and carbon footprints. "A single pair of jeans, for example, requires about 11,000 litres." (Desalinate all that water, add a few pounds to the price at most). Etc.
In any case we can be sure that these figures are wildly, absurdly exaggerated: because they come from WWF, the one-time cuddly old World Wildlife Fund, which has changed into an extremist hardline-Green campaigning organisation. WWF was behind the now universally rubbished claims that the Himalayan glaciers will all be gone by the year 2035 and that 40 per cent of the Amazon's jungles could disappear in runaway wildfires following a drought.
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