The wonderful Tom Heap has just looked at water:
I learnt lots from this programme. For example, that there is an idea of transferring Severn water east by a restored Cotswold Canal (http://www.cotswoldcanals.com/). (I like this idea.) Furthermore, the business model of water companies is against water efficiency: they don’t make money by transferring water from one company to another; they make money from building reservoirs – ‘capital expenditure bias.’ It also costs as much to extract water in the water-short South as the water-rich North. Legislation is based on approximate and arbitrary, rather than well-researched scientific, figures. Legislation is also in a lot of parts years out of date – from the decades before we knew about our impending environmental catastrophe. Water companies take refuge in such legislation: ‘we don’t have to conserve water in such a way as the legislation says x’. Thus water companies are allowed by 1960s legislation to extract as much water as they like, because they just pay for an extraction licence, not any water – oh, but that’s fine, said the water company man, as we’re sticking to the legislation… This means that their shareholders don’t get anything but profit. The water regulators, it appears, are utterly toothless. Surprise.
It seems to me that, as usual, we are approaching the problem from the wrong end: tackle demand first, and supply second. Work out how much you need; then you can work out how to get it. Of course, that means that we have to take individual responsibility, and that requires not just a lot of education and information for the masses, but trust in people’s responsibility by the oligarchies that run the organisations that run the country. Here are my thoughts, for what they’re worth.
a) Every dwelling should have a water meter. We are metered for all other utilities; it seems absurd that water meters are optional.
b) Greywater and rainwater harvesting systems should be mandatory in all new buildings. At the moment, they are optional.
c) People should be encouraged not to tarmac their drives, concrete over their gardens, etc. I’m not sure a concrete tax would be possible, but…
d) Water butts should be either subsidised or provided in the same way that wheelie bins are.
e) It is really time that we had some environmental taxes. How about increasing VAT on petroleum-based shower/ bath/ cleaning products? These don’t degrade very well, and cause water pollution.
f) Tangentially, much more public information should be easily available about water pollution – what fertilizers, septic waste, etc. seep into watercourses.
g) Make rain-dancing a core part of the National Curriculum.
h) As suggested by someone on Costing the Earth, a charge for scarcity of water. This would presumably mean that living in the South would be more expensive than the North, since water is scarcer there. That has to be a good thing – it might persuade some northerners to return to their home territory, or some southerners to go north, and thus help to alleviate the over-population of the South.
i) Revise the extraction legislation so that it includes quantities extracted per annum.
j) Help for individual households in achieving maximum hot water efficiency so that you haven’t poured half a bathful down the drain before the water’s got even warm.
k) Make water trading profitable, or at least not loss-making, for the water companies.
l) Of course, we could always re-nationalise the water ‘industry’.
m) Have public rainwater harvesters on public buildings, and, depending on heavy-metals etc etc, pavements, road- and railways.
n) Have farmers’ water co-operatives, sending tankers around to collect waste water for crop irrigation.
o) Restore and build canals and waterways. Let’s uncover London’s lost rivers! Let’s have chain-gangs of prisoners de-silting waterways!
p) Inject both the solar-powered boat industry with dosh to encourage cleaner boats, and make red diesel bio-fuel.
q) Let them drink juice: let’s restore our orchards and have much more locally pressed fruit juice so that we rely less on concentrates (which require an amount of water). These orchards would have to be properly responsibly irrigated, of course.
r) Eat less meat or drink less beer or something terribly worthy which means that less water is used in agriculture.
s) Embrace being smelly and dirty.
I’m sure there are more ideas, but I’m bored, as no doubt you are.