6th May 2014
During this past week I have attended and chaired a small
meeting of stakeholders” convened in my constituency by the Chief Executive of
Southern Water in order to discuss the water supply and sewage-related issues
that are likely to affect us all.
While we were talking I threw my mind back a couple of
months to a visit that I made, during a break in parliamentary business, to
Mauritania in my capacity as the Chairman of SPANA (the Society for the
protection of Animals Abroad) to view our work in that country on the West
coast of Africa. Outside a square mile or so at the centre of the capital city
of Nouakchott there is no piped water. Every single drop of the stuff of life
consumed in this town on the edge of the Sahara desert, with nothing drinkable
until you reach the banks of the River Nile thousands of miles away to the
east, is delivered in drums on carts drawn by donkeys. The liquid that we
cheerfully waste as it pours down the drain from the taps that we all leave
running is therefore expensive and valuable. And so it should be with us.
After the winter that we have just experienced, with parts
of Kent under feet of water and the Nailbourne having broken its banks it seems
ludicrous to suggest that this coming summer we may once again face a water
shortage and hosepipe ban but that could well prove to be the case.
Modern homes and gardens, with washing machines,
dishwashers, flushing lavatories and lawn sprinklers use gallons of water
almost every minute. East Kent’s farming and businesses also consume vast
quantities of the stuff and yet we daily pump millions of litres of sewage
waste treated to near-potable standards into rivers to flow down into the sea.
With constant demands for yet more housing and new
job-creating enterprises out chalk streams and our aquifers are under constant
stress. The reservoir that should have been built at Broad Oak thirty
years ago remains a dream in some planner`s eye and we are scrabbling around on
the edge of capacity hoping that something will turn up”.
We are obsessed, rightly, with renewable energy supplies and
we are examining the ways in which we may make houses, old and new, more energy
efficient. But while water companies are introducing metering and bringing
leaking pipes under control we give nothing like enough attention to water
supply and the useful disposal of treated sewage waste.
It is a myth to believe that our water suppliers want and
need to sell us more water. They do not. They need us all to use this precious
commodity wisely and yet, because it would add a few pounds to the sale price
of a new home, a grey” water supply that uses rain and waste water to flush
lavatories, for example, is seldom if ever built in as standard.
It is, I believe, high time that parliament took the time
and trouble to address the future water needs of a growing population before,
as with energy, it is too late. There will be another Water Companies
briefing for South East MPs to be held at the House of Commons in the near
future and I hope that serious parliamentary proposals for action will be on