Thursday, 3 June 2010

Rubbing Salt In The Wound

Frustrated and annoyed.

Yesterday the first major desalination plant opened in the UK. The plant has been built in London to address the capital's yearly game of Russian Roulette with its water supply. Put simply London is in the wrong place, and too many people live there.  Whereas northern England, Wales, and Scotland have plenty of hills with which we can capture and store rainwater London's location and topography are all wrong for water collection and storage.

Because of this much of London's water* has always come from rivers and boreholes sunk into the chalk that sits deep below the city. Unfortunately over extraction from many of these boreholes runs the risk of saline intrusion into the aquifer and consequently reduced the resource value. Added to this is a chronic leakage problem; not just localised to London I admit but Thames Water are particularly bad allowing 894 million liters a DAY** to leak from their infrastructure. That is a cube of water 95m square pumped from a scarce resource, treated (which Londoner's pay for), then allowed to leak away. It's a complete disgrace.

Clearly fixing the leaks would be a massive, expensive, and disruptive undertaking involving digging up much of London but in the end it is the only sustainable option. Well not quite the other option is to uproot half a dozen boroughs and move them to Northumberland where they have more water than they know what to to with (perhaps Boris and Alan Sugar could get together for a TV show."Richmond, Dagenham, Kensington, YOUR FIRED"). However instead of this Thames water have been allowed to build this desalination plant.

Keilder Water, Northumberland, The largest artificial reservoir in the UK by capacity. (Some good MTB action in those woods too)

Unfortunately the desalination process requires heat and vacuum, conditions that make it a very energy intensive and energy inefficient not to mention expensive process. Proponents claim the plant is good for the environment as it burns renewable bio-fuels to generate it's energy. But Hello!! when I last checked nice ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY bio-fuels give off exactly the same CO2 when burnt as everything else.
This plant is just another example of us talking a problem from the wrong end. Providing more of something rather than trying to use a resource more cleverly and efficiently. Thames Water should have spent the money fixing the leaks, and promoting water saving measures amongst it's customers because at the end of the day we all probably use too much.

* Source More than you will ever want to know about London's supply boreholes.
** 2005-2006 Figures. Source


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