Plans to ship water from the north to the south of England are being worked on by the industry across three regions, MPs have been told.
Trevor Bishop, organisational development director at the Water Resources South East (WRSE) group of regional industry stakeholders, outlined the plans at a meeting of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee in parliament this week.
Giving evidence for the committee’s inquiry to scrutinise Defra’s draft water national policy statement (NPS), he said WRSE was working with two other regional counterparts to transfer supplies from the north to the south via the river Severn.
Bishop said the project, which is designed to balance water resources between the relatively wet north and drier south, could also tap Welsh supplies.
In a letter to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) last October, WRSE said feasibility studies on an inter-regional transfer between United Utilities, Severn Trent and Thames Water in association with the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales were being carried out.
Inter-regional water transfers, which were backed by the NIC in a report last year, are one of the key types of infrastructure that the NPS is designed to facilitate.
Bishop also expressed fears over proposals in the NPS for water infrastructure projects to deliver net gains for the environment, such as enhanced biodiversity.
“One scheme could be delivering benefits in another area. If it is too tightly defined within a particular scheme, it could lead to quite perverse decisions,” he said, backing up concerns raised by Richard Aylard, external affairs and sustainability director at Thames Water.
He had warned the committee that a requirement to prove net environmental gain from new water infrastructure could thwart projects coming forward.
“Being required to prove net gain could potentially present unnecessary barriers to schemes’ progress and could result in an overall outcome that is less environmentally beneficial than if you deliver that scheme,” Aylard said.
He explained that additional biodiversity is relatively easy to furnish in new reservoirs, proving a net environmental gain could be “much more difficult” with transfer schemes that result in an influx of invasive water species into a different area.
Aylard said that when considering water infrastructure schemes wider environmental benefits must be taken into account not merely those directly delivered by from the scheme.
He also said that Thames’ long gestating plans for a new reservoir near the Oxfordshire town of Abingdon would help to future proof against climate change in London and the south east, which is expected to experience increased rainfall in the winter and vice-versa in the summer.
“In climate change terms, it’s a good solution because we are storing water in the wetter winters and releasing it in the drier summers.”
Aylard also said that electricity generated by turbines, which water will pass through when it is released from the reservoir, would provide half of the energy used by the new facility.
Hannah Stanley-Jones, head of water resources at Anglian Water, told the committee the east of England supplier is working on the provision of a new reservoir in south Lincolnshire, which is identified as the site for a new storage facility in its water resource management plan.
Last year, Steve Robertson, the chief executive of Thames Water met with Utility Week for an interview shortly before he went to an informal meeting with Severn Trent, United Utilities and Ofwat about water transfer between regions.
He said: “I’m pretty damn sure that wouldn’t have happened two years ago, I don’t even think it would have happened a year ago. I think that’s a really good thing because the needle is moving with this and one of our challenges is to make sure we all stay ahead of the curve rather than behind the curve.”
Robertson added: “I have a personal sense of urgency about it. Ideally there is a lot of stuff I would have liked to see already happening. We need to get on. We cannot be sitting on our hands. We really need to be getting on. The NIC report is a good wake up call.”
While he said he was pleased there was a focus on infrastructure he suggested that equally there should be a “focus on consumption”.
“There’s a big role for water companies but what about the rules around white goods, building regulations and planning – why are water companies not statutory members of the planning process?” he said.