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Gale's View - Water Supplies

May 6th 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 the agenda.

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