Water firms ‘sold off reservoirs that could have eased drought’ 'Profit ahead of supply'

The UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has warned that the UK is braced for drought conditions until October. In new forecasts reported this week, rivers are set to be low and exceptionally low in central and southern England.

Water companies have now come under criticism for their alleged failure to plan for drought.

The Telegraph has today reported that dozens of reservoirs have been given up by companies but no new ones have been built in the last 30 years.

Andrew Sells, who headed Natural England between 2014 and 2019, said this was evidence of the businesses putting profits before resilience.

He wrote in the paper: “No doubt some reservoirs had reached the end of their working lives – but in abandoning this critical infrastructure, without any replacements, they have again put short-term profits ahead of long-term water supply…

“[This is despite the fact] the defence of the nation is often quoted as the supreme duty of government. Keeping its people fed and watered seems just as important.”

Mr Sells added that the water regulators, including Ofwat and the Environment Agency, are “equally culpable, and perhaps more so”.

Thames Valley has, for example, sold off 25 reservoirs since the 1980s, according to the GMB Union.

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Dr Andy Hughes, a reservoir expert who has advised Thames Water and Southern Water, added that “we need to make the bureaucratic hoops easier”.

Commenting on the news, Waterways Protection, a network of environmental protection groups, accused water companies of “callous accounting”.

It said in a post on Twitter: “The water companies knew what they were doing when they sold the reservoirs off. Take the cash, things get bad, then they have a case for more government funding.

“It’s very callous accounting at the cost of the environment.

“How sad.”

Singer Feargal Sharkey added: “It’s beginning to feel like there should be a public inquiry into how the water industry and regulators got themselves into this sorry mess.”

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