(L to R) Professor Roger Falconer, William Robinson and Christopher Binnie

Water transfer could be solution to rising demand

Large-scale water transfer could solve the future challenges of water supply in the UK, experts have said.

Engineers and specialists from Essex & Suffolk Water Company, Thames Water and the Environment Agency gathered at an event held by the Engineering the Future alliance last week to discuss the engineering, environmental and economic impact of moving water around the country.

It was the second of three events organised by the group on water security and the future challenges of the infrastructure, availability and use of water.

"Large scale water transfer in England and Wales has long been debated and it is a subject which stirs passions on all sides," said event chairman Professor Roger Falconer.

"It is clear that while water transfer may not be everyone's preferred solution to water demand in coming years, it is an option which will be seriously considered by all parties."

Professor Christopher Binnie began the discussion on water transfer and pointed out that the Thames basin was currently using 55 per cent of its effective rainfall, while in Wales this figure is just three per cent.

He explained that this huge imbalance proved that moving water to areas of water stress such as the South East was a good option, and that water companies could potentially trade water surpluses were it not for current legislation.

Transfer activities between the Ely Ouse and Essex, which have been running since 1972, were discussed as case study of water transfer.

Water Resources Manager at Essex & Suffolk Water William Robinson said that the volume of water abstracted from rivers and transferred to other rivers and reservoirs was strictly controlled using a model derived from real data.

The company's Abberton Scheme increases the capacity of Abberton Reservoir by 58 per cent and ensures that customer demand is met over the company's statutory planning horizon, while having no significant effects on the water quality, biodiversity, recreation or socio-economics of the region.

Engineer John Lawson spoke about the proposed Severn to Thames transfer, explaining that moving water between the two rivers via pipelines or canals has been debated in the 1970s and 1990s, before the issue was revived more recently.

While feasibility studies had been carried out, practical actions have never been taken forward, due to environmental issues, in particular the differing ecologies of the two rivers.

Lawson dismissed as a myth the idea that water was 'too heavy' to transfer effectively and that energy use in doing so was not a significant factor in the case of the Severn to Thames transfer.

While Thames Water has in the past guarded against large-scale movement of water, head of Environment and Quality Strategy and Regulation Yvette de Garis said that transfer was an option and that the water company would consider all options before deciding on the best way to meet a future deficit.

While there is no "silver bullet" solution, de Garis added that future water supplies would be met with both demand management and additional resources, whether or not that meant transfer schemes.

Trevor Bishop, head of Water Resources at the Environment Agency, closed the discussion by explaining the agency was open-minded to the future movement of water over long distances.

The agency would work with other regulators and industry to remove any barriers constraining planning to ensure the implementation of the best schemes, and all potential options would be assessed including the proposed transfer from the River Severn to the Thames, he said.

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