back to article How politicians could end droughts forever But they don't want to

Last month in old London town and across England, formal water rationing came into force again for the second time in just six years - and the creeping rationing of water meters continued to spread. Despite the rainiest April since records began, government minsters are openly speculating that total mains cutoffs and standpipes …


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  1. Bronek Kozicki

    How dare you!

    Suggest we should use few pence worth of electricity more for such bourgeois comforts as watering our gardens or washing cars!!

    1. dotslash

      Re: How dare you!

      lol indeed.

      Lewis for London Mayor, then for PM!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Desalination will never work... the excess waste salt mountains will bring soaring cancer rates and cause house prices to plunge leading to gangs of feral youths roaming the streets.

      1. hplasm

        Re: Desalination will never work...

        But at least we can salt the roads when the ice age come back...

        1. Dave the Cat
          Thumb Up

          Re: Desalination will never work...

          Good call... didn't even think of that!

      2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: Re: Desalination will never work...

        "....the excess waste salt mountains...." Salt is a valuable commodity (, there are actually countries in Europe where artificial lagoons are created each year, allowed to dry up to form salt pans, which are then bulldozed to gather the salt. Such methods of gathering sea salt have been going on for centuries (minus the bulldozers, of course).

        But the main byproduct would not be salt, it would be the sludge that is in all our river water, even the relatively clean Thames. I'm assuming the majority of the Beckton plant's power consumption if the actual processing to get rid of the mud and other pollutants in the water (and hopefully the bacteria), leaving what is probably a rather nasty sludge behind which would have to go to either landfills or back into the river.

        As regards power and carbon silliness, I do know that it was advertised that the Beckton plant runs on "100% renewable energy", so it could probably be run a lot cheaper anyway.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Desalination will never work...

          Yes, but as some plotician (spelling intended) let slip yesterday, it is all about joining up the water companies with pipes and creating a market between them. They love markets. People unconnected with the supply of water will be able to make profits on the transactions and more money will be taken out of the system by these people than will be saved, with the bill payer left to make up the difference. If there is no crisis, you can't do that and all those vested interests have to be borne in mind when listening to the arguments.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Re: Desalination will never work... (@Jecko 10.05)

            It's either another outbreak of lawyer's greed as you outline, OR from your first sentence: "... joining up the water companies ..." . My guess is that engineering a drought is the easiest way of regaining State monopoly power over water supply. Suits the Civil Service's pro EU ( and anti-Britain) agenda.

            1. jaduncan

              Re: Desalination will never work... (@Jecko 10.05)

              "Civil Service's pro EU ( and anti-Britain) agenda."

              I actually LOLed.

        2. Circadian

          Re: Desalination will never work...

          re Matt Bryant's comment 'I do know that it was advertised that the Beckton plant runs on "100% renewable energy"...'

          So that's why the plant only runs 10% - 40% of the time (or off altogether)!

          1. The First Dave

            Re: Desalination will never work...

            Possibly, but if that is the case, then we need to note that the cost price of the leccy is presumably much lower than the standard rate, and should really be much,much lower - this is the ideal companion to wind power really.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How dare you!

      Nobody is stopping anyone washing cars or watering gardens.

      You can do both without using a hosepipe, just as you can drink beer without pouring most of it down your shirt.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Why not use solar-powered evaporation?

      Looking outside the window now in search for enough solar energy to run the evaporators....

      Nope, as expected - a totally futile undertaking.

      1. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Why not use solar-powered evaporation?

        If you look outside your window at the moment, you might see something a bit like this

        and you might reasonably conclude that there isn't actually a water shortage at the moment, it is just in the wrong place.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why not use solar-powered evaporation?

        Vladimir: I'm not sure where you are, but I can definitely see out of the window, with use of only sunlight, this kind of suggests that there is solar energy knocking about.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why not use solar-powered evaporation?

      Evaporation would require a thousand times as much energy - and it would have to be re-condensed.

      Osmosis is very cheap, and getting cheaper.

      Pumping water is expensive in energy terms, a vertical rise of 100meters is equal in cost to pumping it 100km, desalination is a much more viable option at these sorts of distances.

    3. Simon Watson

      Re: Why not use solar-powered evaporation?

      Because reverse osmosis is far more efficient a way to purify water than evaporation and condensation. The energy required to fully evaporate 1000L of water is on the order of 732 kWh (assuming the water starts at 10C). Yes you can get all that energy back when the water condense but you'd need 99.86% recovery efficiency to achieve the same energy usage as reverse osmosis.

      1. Smallbrainfield

        Re: Why not use solar-powered evaporation?

        Okay, we've shot the solar powered route down. Why not a combination of solar and wind ( would be popular with Register staffers, ha ha ha) ? Run the thing constantly, even out of drought and use it to top up aquifers and the water table.

        Set up a few smaller plants along the estuary and leave them to keep working, then we'd have plenty of cheap water with less whining from the hand-wringers.

        Well, it worked in Sim City 2000.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surely it would require investment in both water production (desalination infrastructure) and water retention (pipe replacement) if your plan were to work in anything other than the very short term? It would be nonsensical to divert all investment away from pipe replacement projects and into desalination because the problems of water loss through leakage are only going to get worse, not better, leading to having to produce ever increasing amounts of potable water at ever increasing costs. A more sustainable model should be a balance of pipe replacement (which isn't really an ongoing cost) and water production investment (possibly in combination with reducing demand for water in the worst affected areas by dealing with the overcrowding in areas like the South-East).

    1. bonkers

      Hey Lewis, you missed something

      Graphene - wonder material - water just gushes though it, leaving the salt behind.

      The 7kWh/tonne figure might well be revisable to 700Wh/tonne. At this point do we really care about losses?

      1. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Hey Lewis, you missed something

        You still have to pump the water through the graphene, or at the very least use gravity force.

        When you add salt to water, it releases energy, therefore it must require energy to get the salt back out of the water otherwise you have the possibility of a perpetual motion machine.

        1. nexsphil

          Re: Hey Lewis, you missed something

          --When you add salt to water, it releases energy, therefore it must require energy to get the salt back out of the water otherwise you have the possibility of a perpetual motion machine.

          Uhh yeah. As you yourself state, the graphene system uses pumps or 'gravity force'

          1. Wibble

            Re: Hey Lewis, you missed something


          2. bonkers

            Re: Hey Lewis, you missed something

            Actually, when you add salt to water, it absorbs energy - wikipedia says 3.88 kJ/mol. Hence the use of ice and salt to get minus 10, 20 degrees.

      2. h4rm0ny

        Re: Hey Lewis, you missed something

        They missed something else, too! It's not like El Reg. to miss an opportunity for scantily clad women to appear (especially on the one occasion it would have been appropriate):

        Honestly, this is the first thing that the article made me think of!

  4. xyz Silver badge

    as written by a water desalination plant salesman.

    mmmmmm....stop showering 30 times a day

  5. cs94njw
    Thumb Up


    Here's an idea. Wind power is great, but we can't store it so it goes to waist, as there's far less usage at night.

    Why not have the desalination plants run off Wind power during the night, and turn off in the morning?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Quando

        Re: Wind

        Your day night difference is out by 1000 - the difference is about 13-25 GW not TW.

        But your 0.3% calculation is correct.

    2. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Wind

      At the moment we very rarely have more wind power than we know what to do with. From memory it has happened twice in the last 5 years or so when we have had freak conditions. One of them was when the main Scotland <-> England power lines were blown down. Scotland was unable to export its surplus electricity to England and the windmills were running at maximum output due to the weather conditions so ended up being powered 100% by renewables for a few hours.

      Generally what happens is that when the wind starts blowing, we switch off a few gas power stations and save the gas for when we do need it later on. Also, large hydro stations can be turned off, and we let the water build up behind the dam for later use.

      Having said that, yes it is likely that desalination plants would be used when electricity demand is lowest, and the cheap electricity prices they would get from doing that would reduce the cost still further.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wind

      I wondered why I was getting so fat in my old age, it must be all this wind power they do. I'll have to run some of it off overnight.

    4. DanceMan

      Re: Wind

      Wind doesn't go to waist, but beer certainly does.

    5. David Pollard

      Re: Wind

      It would indeed be great to be able to use wind power for desalination. This could reduce the adverse effects of having to accommodate fluctuations in power input by the grid and by mainstream generating plant. Reducing the impact of wind energy's variability would save on costs and improve the reliability and longevity of the rest of the system.

      The problem is that wind only generates power for 30% of the time, so three times as many desalination plants would be required for a given output. Off-peak nuclear would have a greater duty cycle and is likely to be both less expensive and more dependable.

      1. Danny 14

        Re: Wind

        Actually what really happens is that in the morning the prices are set and loads are calculated. Power stations are told to come on or off on the schedules depending on their costs. If the weather is really windy the gas stations lower their costs so that they dont have to be knocked off. Then a price war erupts. Nuclear is generally very cheap anyway.

        Its not as cut and dry as people think.

  6. Conrad Longmore

    JG Ballard and tilting at windmills.

    Where does all the salt (and other waste) go? Presumably you have to ship it off and dump it a long, long way away. Yes, I have read JG Ballard's "The Drought".

    Here's a greener scenario. If you ran the desalination plants at night to top up storage, you could use some of that wind generated energy which doesn't have much of a market at 3am in the morning.

    Another alternative is to build a bloody big pipe from the north and west to the south and east!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: JG Ballard and tilting at windmills.

      On your chips?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: JG Ballard and tilting at windmills.

      @Your alternative: Only if it's charged at London prices.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: JG Ballard and tilting at windmills.

      "Another alternative is to build a bloody big pipe from the north and west to the south and east!"

      A pipe isn't even required. There are plenty of canals or even rivers that could be used to do it perhaps with just a few small lengths of pipe to join up the gaps.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: JG Ballard and tilting at windmills.

        "Another alternative is to build a bloody big pipe from the north and west to the south and east!"

        They are called "aqueducts" and the Romans built some hundreds of miles long, a few of which are still standing nearly 2000 years later. How far is it from Wales (the land of perpetual rain) to South-East England?

        Of course, maybe 21st-century technology isn't up to copying what the Romans did...

        1. Danny 14

          Re: JG Ballard and tilting at windmills.

          Gradients are the problem. There are plenty of these - look at how manchester gets its water (from the lakes). Liverpool gets some from wales too.

          However, it isnt as simple as building lots of pipes.

        2. Dave the Cat

          Re: JG Ballard and tilting at windmills.

          @ Tom Welsh

          Hey bugger off! The English already flooded several valleys so you could steal our water to feed Brum and Scouseland. You're not having any more unless you can figure out a way of directing some more of that sun you get in the South East our way! As someone else suggested above maybe a giant mirror in space or something. But we are definate on this, no sun, no water! ;-)

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: JG Ballard and tilting at windmills.

      'Where does all the salt (and other waste) go? Presumably you have to ship it off and dump it a long, long way away. '

      The process produces a more concentrated brine as waste product, so normally you just lay a long outfall pipe which discharges the effluent well away from the intake. Potentially tricky in an estuary where the tide pushes water upstream twice a day.

      One cost Lewis has left out is that of filtering Thames water to a point where it can be sent to the osmotic membranes without clogging them up.

    5. Dave Bell

      Re: JG Ballard and tilting at windmills.

      Just guessing here, from my days studying chemistry, but I would expect the plant to take brackish water and produce a stream of pure water, and a larger stream of more saline water. You'd have to site intakes and outlets with a bit of care, but is it any different in the end from taking more water out of the upper reaches of the Thames drainage system, and putting it through a set of kidney-filters?

      Your point about using such things as a sink for surpluses of wind-generated energy is a good one. If the electricity demand can be quickly changed, it would help stabilise the system. But it might have to run in a steady state.

    6. R3x

      Re: JG Ballard and tilting at windmills.

      Oi!! Get off our water!... Divert some of your sun our way through giant glass mirrors IN SPACE, and then we'll give you some water.

    7. Wilseus

      Re: JG Ballard and tilting at windmills.

      "Here's a greener scenario. If you ran the desalination plants at night to top up storage, you could use some of that wind generated energy which doesn't have much of a market at 3am in the morning."

      That would work nicely for nuclear as well.

    8. kiwimuso

      Re: JG Ballard and tilting at windmills.

      "Another alternative is to build a bloody big pipe from the north and west to the south and east!"

      You've already got one!!!

      It was built during the war to ship petrol around the country. Clean it out and use that to ship water around the place. Dunno whether it's big enough to do the job, but it should help.

  7. Eddie Edwards
    Paris Hilton

    Math error

    The interestingness of this article is to some extent destoyed by Lewis' repeated insistence that 10kWh per 1,000 litres translates to 1kWh per 167 litres. If he just used the honest approach of rounding up 1.67kWh to 2kWh, it would hardly damage his point, but it would make it seem less like he's fiddling the numbers to suit his case.

    Paris, because she can't divide 10,000 by 1,000 either.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Math error

      I think your maths are wrong. Show your working, please.

      7kWh to process 1000 litres. 0.007kWh per litre. 167 litres per person per day. 1.169kWh per person per day.

      Or as Lewis put it "approximately 1 kWh per day".


      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Math error

          No - Maths is an abbreviation of Mathematics, a multidisciplinary science.

          Math is something the USians invented.

          (USians - because canadians, mexicans, peruvians... are all american as well)

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. Imsimil Berati-Lahn

            Re: Math error

            As everybody well knows, MATHS is an acronym for:






            I do apologise.

            There isn't an original thought inside my rotting, hollow skull.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Math error: I saw the New

            I saw the new about that on the TV

            1. Mike Moyle

              Re: Math error: I saw the New

              "I saw the new about that on the TV"

              ...And did you call the Missus to tell her "The news are on"?

      2. AndyS

        Re: Math error

        Eddie may be wrong, but Lewis' maths is pretty bad too.

        It's bad practice to round numbers during working, and then use those rounded numbers.

        7 kWh per 1000 litres, 6p/kWh, 167 litres per person per day, and 8M people equates to £204M, not £176M. It's perfectly acceptable to round to one significant figure during your presentation, but not during your working.

        It's a minor point, but repeatedly rounding numbers in your favour does not look good when you're trying to make a serious point.


        7[kWh] * 0.06[£/kWh] * 1000[liters] / 167[litres/person/day] * 365[days/year] * 8e6[people] = £204,808,800/year.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. dannypoo
            Thumb Down


            Hmm lots of fail in this comment as well - you should RTFA properly...

            Your figures are based upon reverse osmosis providing ALL the water supplied to TW's customers - I don't think at any point the reporter suggested that Thames Water stop drawing water from aquifers and other reservoirs - conversely he suggested that doing so would cause flooding of tube tunnels due to raising of the water table.

            Never mind that you have magically turned £40 into £50 for your 'killer bit'. Also did you happen to notice how much TW have spent stopping leaks, digging up roads etc. Scaling that back should comfortably cover the capex for this - and before you moan that leaks are wasteful, the infrastructure is over 100 years old and has been neglected - that's just how it is - and the cost of all that digging is being added to your bill, anyway...

            The point of the article was to highlight that it would be possible to use desalinisation plants to make up for low rainfall. Don't you think that regions would benefit from not having to endure drought conditions, standpipes etc?

            1. kiwimuso
              IT Angle

              Re: Failfest

              The other point to noted here is that leakage in water pipes does not mean the water is wasted. It merely means that TW can not charge for it as nobody is actually using it.

              Water leaking from pipes will simply be filtered through the ground and either back into the aquifers or rivers from whence they came.

              Admittedly it is still a cost on the consumer as it would be built into their price structure but without doing any math(s) whatsoever I would suggest that the cost of the leakage is probably fairly small when compared to the cost of digging up and replacing all the mains - although I still think that doing that work as part or ongoing normal maintenance wouldn't hurt either. I am looking at this from a purely monetary position.

              I am sure that someone who has a better maths brain and can be more bothered than I, can do the sums to confirm or deny my suspicions.

              And no, I am NOT going to ask for the IT angle!

          2. A.A.Hamilton

            Re: Math error

            I opened the url you quoted. The very first thing I see is a large image carrying the words "...serving 14 million customers...."

            This changes the argument a little, doesn't it?

            Further, the volume you quote seems to be the total supplied by Thames; the original article is suggesting desalination as an adjunct to the existing sources of supply - not a total replacement.

            I would also question the unit cost that Thames Water might have to pay - 6p. This doesn't allow for off-peak units being cheaper, and Thames bargaining power being far greater than ours. We are the domestic 'prey' of the electricity supply companies, whose greed is un-constrained, even by their main supporters club - the appointed Government regulator.

            The additional cost might be no more than £1 per week per household - which is not an unreasonable price to pay for the additional benefit that would be enjoyed.

      3. hamcheeseandonion

        Re: Math error

        When I were a lad, we called that arithmetic - long division, multiplication, addition and subtraction - and maths/math/mathematics was equations/magic that furrowed my brow - the marks are still there....oh, the pain!

        <Nurse!! Nurse!!!..anaesthetic, STAT>

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Math error

      The 7kwhr figure is a exaggeration in any case. It can be as little as 3kwhr per 1000kg of water.

  8. Dirk Vandenheuvel

    "the supply of which is effectively infinite"

    Yeah... I think I have found the flaw in your plan. How many times in the past have people used natural resources as effectively infinite? Look what happened there.

    There is also no such thing as a free lunch.

    1. frank ly

      I take your point, but ...

      In extracting them and then using them, coal, oil and gas (etc) are destroyed. Water usage does not destroy water. It returns it to the giant worldwide reservoir, otherwise known as the world.

    2. Filippo Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      That's irrelevant. Even assuming that there's some plausible scenario where we run out of seawater (and there isn't), when you have a problem you don't look for the perfect solution. You look for the *best possible* solution. And desalination is it.

      You most definitely do NOT pick one of the worst possible solutions out of sheer idiocy, and then justify it by saying "well, the best possible solution also has some flaws!"

  9. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Why there is no investment in desalination

    I can't be bothered to look into that industry in more detail but I am confident there are no economic incentives for such investments.

    I bet, the current water utilities live on subsidies, water in London is practically free for non-commercial use. To make it worthwhile the water utilities must be allowed to meter and charge the customers and the risk must be offloaded from the Government to the company.

    I don't think it will happen soon but neither do I really want to as a user - very selfish of me, I know, but...

    1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

      Re: Why there is no investment in desalination

      Always follow the money trail, if desalination is such a good option why not use it?

      All members of the WTO are signatories of the general agreement on trade in services treaty (GATS), but the WTO main concern is the commercial interests of profit-making companies, particularly international companies.

      GATS, IMHO, is a particularly insidious treaty since it targets public services, usually provided for the public good by state and local governments, such as health, education, water and waste etc. and views them as mere commodities to be commercialised and used for profit generation of multi-national corporations.

      GATS rules under WTO ‘most favoured nation’ rules, that means that foreign service providers must receive equal or better treatment than domestic service providers, in other words local government cannot give tax breaks, subsidies, etc. to local/national businesses because that would be “unfair” to the multinational corporations. However giving tax breaks, subsidies, etc. to multinational corporations and not giving them ot local/national businesses is perfectly OK.

      One of the big drivers of GATS is the U.S. Coalition of Service Industries who lists among its members such distinguished companies such as citigroup, Deloitte & Touche, halliburton, JP morgan chase, newscorp, time warner, visa international and walmart.

      So this why it is much better for the Sir Humphries to bullshit about scarce recourses, and the need to install water meters and charge people for usage, from there, once taxpayers have paid for the installation of meters, feed the public a diet of propaganda about Increasing efficiency and improving service quality, and then it becomes a very simple task to privatise water supplies

      So you see Vladimir, there are lots of economic incentives for investment, there’re just not the one you can think of.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Re: Why there is no investment in desalination

        Dear Herr Generalfeldmarschall, I'm a bit confused - you've spent most of your post explaining how there exist no economic incentives to invest under current status only to contradict yourself in the last sentence... Also, water utilities in England and Wales have already been privatised long ago.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Why there is no investment in desalination

          Because there is no drought?

          1. P. Lee

            Re: Why there is no investment in desalination

            > Because there is no drought?

            and if there was, rationing allows higher prices while reducing capital investment.

            It is a utility, demand is inelastic.

            There are few votes in, "with us, you'll still have water!"

            And there is also the option of putting storage tanks in your garden and collecting all the water off your roof. Rather common in Oz, though they tend to have large metal roofs.

        2. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

          Re: Why there is no investment in desalination

          Sorry for the confusion, the point I was tying to get across is that the government invested in desalination technology at what seems like a reasonable cost then there would be no need to privatise publicly owned services and the service could continue to be run for the public good at cost.

          Of course the lobbyists with the deep pockets think otherwise.

  10. Matthew Smith

    Pushing water uphill

    The other problem with desalination is that all of the water starts off at sea-level, not surprisingly. London is only about 5m above sea level on average, but it will still take a large amount of energy to pump the water, rather than rely on gravity.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pushing water uphill

      "The other problem with desalination is that all of the water starts off at sea-level, not surprisingly. London is only about 5m above sea level on average, but it will still take a large amount of energy to pump the water, rather than rely on gravity."

      Its already pumped! How do you think tap water reaches people at the top of tower blocks??

      Aside from the reservoirs are usually fairly low down in valleys to capture as much water as they can so water generally needs to be pumped out of them rather than just flowing out all the way to the treatment plant.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Pushing water uphill

        @Boltar - In case you haven't noticed - not everyone lives at the top of a tower block, whereas pretty much everyone doesn't live at sea level. The reservoirs are low in valleys, but the water companies choose valleys which are higher that the cities they supply - they're pretty smart like that.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pushing water uphill (AC)

          Erm. Which part of 'Groundwater' and '88m below sea level' is causing you a problem here?

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Pushing water uphill

        >>>>Its already pumped! How do you think tap water reaches people at the top of tower blocks??

        @boltar, Thames don't tend to give people at the top of tower blocks water. I do. Otherwise I'd be out of a job...

        I sell pumps for a living (amongst other water-y things). The Water Undertakers are supposed to provide water at 1 bar, at the meter. In practise you usually get much more than that, although not in Central London.

        Tall buildings tend to have a cistern and pump hidden away in the basement, which pushes the water up to high level. Otherwise, when you turned on the taps at the ground floor, you'd get wet trousers, from the huge amount of pressure needed to deal with tall buildings.

  11. An0n C0w4rd


    or we can not all live crammed into a small geographical area. There is plenty of country. Why do we all have to live crammed into the London area?

    Answer: we don't

    But for some reason, despite all the technological innovations available today, people seem convinced that they need to hire people in London and people need to move from elsewhere to London to take the job, which makes the water availability problem WORSE.

    I wish this country would wake up and realise that "business as normal" needs to STOP and concentrating some insane percentage of the population of the UK in a small percentage of the land is a BAD IDEA. Wikipedia says the population of London accounts for 12.5% of the population of the country, and I suspect that estimate is low and if you take into account all the people that live near London to commute in daily it will go up a lot higher than that.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Charles 9

      Re: Geography

      People naturally gravitate towards water. It takes either a whole lot of convincing alternatives (like groundwater) or the fact you just can't travel far (what happened in the old days) to keep you away from sources of water. We need water to live, so it's only natural that we (like any other animal) gravitate toward it.

      There's also the need to gravitate toward each other because, even in this day and age, THINGS still need to be passed from person to person. Unless someone can fast-track the Star Trek concept of the matter transporter, this need won't be going away anytime soon (indeed, this is becoming a stumbling block of continuing standards of living--if fuel costs stay up, so do transportation costs, which means the costs of non-local goods also rises, and so on and so forth; this is creating pressure to keep things close).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Geography

      Whatever An0n C0w4rd says... please will all the people in London stay in London - and not come and destroy what little is left of Britain's countryside building more houses, shops, roads. There might not be much to do - but it's just fine the way it is.

      Alternatively let's just keep on cramming more and more people into a finite space (i.e. Britain) - struggling to feed, house and water them. Quality of life - who needs it!? Let the insanity continue!

      1. Audrey S. Thackeray

        That London

        "please will all the people in London stay in London - and not come and destroy what little is left of Britain's countryside building more houses, shops, roads. "

        Those are all things that people in the sticks want - if anyone comes from London to the country they want it to be the country, not an extension of the dreadful suburbs.

        Londoners do not care if country folk have no homes for their kids, no affordable shopping options, and slow, twisty commutes.

        Frankly I doubt Londoners think that schools are necessary in order for people to grow ample bosoms and sell scones which seems to be their preferred rural option.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Another ridiculous Register article advocating the wanton wastage of money and energy. Unfashionable though it might be in your techno-utopia, but perhaps we could - gasp! - use LESS? 167 litres per person is far too high - most people could easily get by on a quarter of that. Force the water companies to waste less by fixing the leaks and you've got a solution without having to waste a single extra watt doing something daft like desalinating water.

    1. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: Absurd

      So, tearing up roads, crafting new pipes and rebuilding the roads does not consume a "single extra watt"? Good to know. Can you send me a brochure from your magical heavy equipment vendor, please?

      1. Roobarb

        Re: Absurd

        Fixing the leaks has to be done anyway, so it's not an either/or thing. Using less is almost always a good idea. Only prissy townies take showers every day.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Absurd

          "Only prissy townies take showers every day."

          Not all of them if some of the people I've stood next to in the tube are anything to go by. Anyway, if you don't wash every day could I kindly suggest you stay down on your pig farm and don't come anywhere near people with functioning noses.


          1. NogginTheNog

            Re: Absurd

            "Anyway, if you don't wash every day could I kindly suggest you stay down on your pig farm and don't come anywhere near people with functioning noses."

            I've recently discovered (at weekends mostly) that I can sometimes go 24 hours plus without a shower and not turn into a filthy muck covered reeking troglodite whom no-one will come within 6 feet of! It was quite a revelation :-o

        2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: Fixing the leaks has to be done anyway

          Er, no it doesn't. In fact, if the amount being leaked costs less than fixing it, only a twat would fix the leak. If you bother to re-read the article, you'll find that Lewis addressed exactly this point and concluded that (historically) it *has* cost more to fix the leaks than it would have done to provide additional capacity.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Fixing the leaks has to be done anyway

            Surely this all depends on the size of the leak .

            small pipes , well yeah leave them to leak, it isn't as if what is leaking into the ground is toxic to water based lifeforms.

            There are some leaks that are worth fixing . I remember working for LUL on their electrical dept at Euston Station in the late 80s when a 42 inch water main burst and flooded Euston Tube station and underground car park. There was water everywhere, plus a flooded car park (with some very expensive cars in it) and flooded tube station.

          2. auburnman

            Re: Fixing the leaks has to be done anyway

            Er, yes it does. Unfixed leaks will get worse over time, turning into burst pipes and streets with no water supply and emergency roadworks. Every uncontrolled leak contributes to the risk of flood damage in the city. I agree with most of Lewis' points but I dislike the dismissive tone towards repairing the infrastructure.

        3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


          I always wonder how much of the water that actually leaks from the pipes actually makes it's way back into the ground water reserves (especially in London), and thus is available again.

          Anybody any ideas?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @Roobarb

            None of the leakage makes its way back into the aquifer. This is because of the clay that gives London its artesian wells. The water can't get through the clay from the bottom but neither can it soak through from the top, so it drains away into the Thames and the sea.

            Picture here:


      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Absurd (@Filippo)

        There are other means to fix pipes (like stripping them of any biological ingress, i.e. roots, then relining them with a flexible PE/epoxy combination). What you will find though is that the water companies are upgrading the pipes with larger diameters.

        The original 'Absurd' poster is correct though... if every household was metered, people would use less water, which would reduce the requirement to lay larger pipes (to continue sustaining the growth in water usage).

        People from more arid countries understand this very well, and as one of those, I find it ridiculous that a single person household on a 'standing charge' for water pays the same as what a family of six in the house next door does! This is what drives people to wanton waste. Being charged per cubic metre of water will quickly stop people from running half-empty wash cycles, running baths for all six members in the family, leaving taps open whilst brushing their teeth and washing their dishes, using a hosepipe to wash their car, and the list goes on.

        1. Mike Street

          Re: Absurd (@Filippo)

          Read the article - it doesn't matter how much we use. This is a wet country, an island surrounded by sea - not the bloody Sahara.

          And it water, not oil. It isn't going to run out, as a visit to the seaside will confirm.

          There does seem to be a shortage of people who can think though - wonder if we can make some to be Mayors, MPs and so on, instead of the stupids we have now.

        2. AndrueC Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: Absurd (@Filippo)

          I don't know if metering would make much difference. I'm metered and the bill is far and away the smallest of all the utilities. Something stupidly low like £20 a quarter I think. That's Anglian by the way - one of the drought stricken authorities.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward


            I've seen both sides of the coin (Bristol + Oxford = metered, Warwick + Stevenage = standing charge), and the metered charge for a single person household is a LOT less (up to 2/3 less).

            In 2003, Severn Trent charged 160 quid per semester as a standing charge, based on your charge above, 20 quid a quarter/40 quid a semester is 1/4 of a standing charge over a year. For a single person, that's a massive saving.

    2. Nick Gibbins

      Re: Absurd

      Damned straight. We've just had the first quarter's readings for the water meter that was installed before Christmas. The result: our family of four uses around 150 litres per day *in total*, and that's with a newborn in cloth nappies.

    3. Alfred
      Thumb Down

      Re: Absurd

      Why? Why should I, given the choice between using 167 litres per day and using a quarter of that, choose to go with the smaller option? I _like_ power showers. I _like_ being clean. I _like_ washing my clothes regularly. I _like_ all the other things I do with water. Why on earth would I choose _not_ to do these things?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Absurd/@Alfred

        @Alfred - Fine. As long as you also advocate policies which move us toward a smaller population - rather than the somewhat large increases which appear to be in the cards.

        Otherwise your - litany of "why can't I"s will doom us all to far fewer showers and dirtier clothes. It's not magic - it all has to come from somewhere - and the current financial impact doesn't mean things won't get far nastier somewhere down the road.

        1. Alfred

          Re: Absurd/@Alfred

          I disagree. I think that humanity is smart enough to be able to have the population the size it is AND do all these things. Yes, our current system of government and our current economy is bloody awful at managing it, but it's possible. Yes, we'll have to improve the collection and distribution networks, but water just goes round and round endlessly.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    This is all kinds of wrong

    Instead of figuring out how to solve london's water problem, we need to be looking at how to cut off the food supply!

    1. Neil McDowell

      Re: This is all kinds of wrong

      Surely the Oxygen supply, else hordes of canabilistic Londoners will head North through starvation. Like when Millwall play away!

  14. Reg. Blank

    wind pump

    Is there something inherent in the desalination process that produces CO2, or is it just the amount of energy used that the greenies say can only be generated by fossil fuelled power stations?

    To me, this would seem to be the ideal thing to power with those unreliable wind turbines, which are otherwise pretty rubbish at supplying the grid. Use wind power to top off reservoirs with desalinated water. Provided the reservoirs have enough capacity for a week or so of no wind this should be fine, and even if there's no wind for two weeks you can use "regular" power as a back up.

    1. NomNomNom

      Re: wind pump

      Why have you fully bought the line that desalination isn't used because of green pressure about CO2 emissions?

      I am betting the reason desalination isn't widespread in the UK has a far more obvious reason

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: wind pump

      If RO desalination is anything like RO purification for aquarium water, you can't stop and start the process, this is one of the reasons that I buy RO water from my local fish shop. If you do stop and start, you can end up with water that is infected with various things you wouldn't want to drink.

  15. Charles 9

    I've heard of the desalination approach before, but based on everything I've read so far, most desalination plants are energy-intensive (yes, even vacuum distillation and reverse osmosis plants--the latter because you need high fluid pressures to deliver practical permeate production rates). Most practical designs couple them to power plants as a sort of "energy dump"--if the energy being produced (especially in big plants like nuclear plants) isn't needed right now, fire up the desalinator. Many nuclear-powered ships already use this technique to avoid having to stop for water.

    Perhaps someone can clarify just how much power is needed to desalinate seawater for, say, 1 million people at acceptable flow rates (just to keep things honest--producing 1 million potable liters doesn't mean much if they're being consumed faster than they're being made).

    1. bonkers

      Perhaps someone can read the article for me?

      power required is 7kWh/tonne, personal consumption is 167 L/day.

      I don't see why flow rate should be anything other than 167 million litres/day, for 1 million people.

      I like the Energy dump point though, this is really easy "energy storage" - well actually timed usage, but works nearly as well.

  16. David Webb

    "enough to increase the cup's price by a few pence"

    That's per cup, I'm guessing Londoners drink more than a cup a day so you end up having to add costs to everything that requires water pushing costs up and up and up, you may think that adding a few pence is meaningless but lets assume you drink 5 cups of tea/coffee a day and it puts 3p on the price of a cup of coffee. Over a year you are paying an extra £18.25 for just your coffee. Add in other stuff that needs water (washing, showers, clean clothing, toilet, brushing teeth) and the few pennies over a year add up very quickly.

    Your water company isn't a charity either, they are not going to swallow the costs of desalination, they will stick it on your water bills, living in Cornwall we know pretty well that high water bills are a pain in the arse. Would you be happy to see your water bill rise from £339/year to the average Cornish rate of £543?

    So, go ahead, which politician is going to say "ok, we're going to get rid of drought forever! But it's going to up your water bills by a few hundred quid and you'll end up having to pay a few hundred more on stuff you consume over a year, but it's ok, you never need to worry about drought again!"

    Your maths also doesn't add up on the pipe fixing, they fix the pipes so X amount of water isn't lost, they could have built 2 plants which cost Y money (and Z up-keep costs) instead, rather than fixing the pipes which costs nothing in the long run and saves money as well as water.

    1. Andrew James

      £339 is ridiculously cheap. Where does that figure come from?

      I currently pay just under £500 per year, but was using more like £700 per year until the last 12 months or so when I've actually started trying not to waste water. Threw out the dishwasher and switched back to washing by hand, replaced the washing machine with a better one with better programming to be more water efficient, take quicker showers, siphon the kids bathwater into a waterbutt for the garden during the summer months, etc.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Threw out the dishwasher and switched back to washing by hand, "

        Dishwashers are much more energy and water efficient than washing by hand.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Up


          Dishwashers use a *lot* less water than washing dishes by hand. In the same way that front loading washing machines use a *ton* less water then top-loaders.

          My only beef with dish washers is the "heat dry" setting, which we pointedly never use. Just set it going when you go to bed and by morning they've pretty much dried themselves by evaporation anyway.

          1. Audrey S. Thackeray

            Re: Agreed

            "Dishwashers use a *lot* less water than washing dishes by hand."

            This has been asserted twice in this thread and by all my dishwasher-owning friends.

            Where can I find the source material for these claims?

            1. bonkers

              Re: Agreed

              Audrey, have you tried using the Internet?


      2. Law

        kids bathwater

        "siphon the kids bathwater into a waterbutt for the garden during the summer months, etc."

        Do you let them wash with soap? For some reason I see bubble-bath, shampoo, soap as being bad for plants. Is that not true? If not, I may consider a similar thing - ours has a bath every other night - we aren't metered, but I limit baths to every other night because of the cost of gas heating a bath full of water.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: kids bathwater

          I've actually heard some people say the detergent in the gray water is mildly beneficial for plants... at the very least it doesn't seem to be too bad:

          "Soaps are readily degraded by microbes (Steber and Berger, 1995), with nearly complete degradation in aerobic and anaerobic digistors in about four weeks... differences in soil types can be expected to influence the degradation rate of some chemicals."

    2. Frederic Bloggs

      Er... I think you will find that the amount of water quoted is the number of litres in total to grow, process and transport the beans, as well as produce yer actual cup of coffee. If one simply accounts for the actual water in the cup, the cost is several orders of magnitude smaller than Lewis quotes.

      Even in a Grande.

    3. hplasm

      Re:"I'm guessing Londoners drink more than a cup a day "

      I thought Londoners drank water from bottles. Water from far away. Exotic water.

      Still, having tasted London tap water...

  17. Ross 7

    15 desalination plants

    So 15 additional plants would give London all the water it could wish for? Fancy plotting those 15 locations on a map?...

    1. Andrew James

      Re: 15 desalination plants

      I bet you could find suitable locations for half a dozen if you really wanted to. And since at least a quarter of the year is full of decent rainfall in this country, you wouldnt need 15 plants running flat out all the time since the existing water supply manages pretty well 95% of the time. You just need enough capacity to ensure when things are drying up that you can keep the supply coming for a few weeks.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: 15 desalination plants

      Last I looked, brownfield sites in major cities were not in short supply. I doubt London is any different.

      1. Some Beggar

        Re: 15 desalination plants

        A brownfield site that is large enough for a desalination plant, has access to sea water, and can be plumbed into the existing water system without digging up or knocking down something important?

        I'm struggling a bit. Perhaps they could flip the 02 Millenium Dome upside down and fill that up like a massive soup bowl?

        1. The Wegie

          Re: 15 desalination plants

          Battersea Power station.

          The Stag Brewery in Mortlake now that it's closing down.

          The current WRWA waste disposal depot at Smuggler's Way.

          And that's just what I can think of off the top of my head up in my end of town. Further east, there are considerably more possibilities. Part of the Tate and Lyle site would be an obvious candidate.

          1. Some Beggar

            Re: 15 desalination plants

            The Stag Brewery in Mortlake now that it's closing down.

            I genuinely can't tell if this is a joke or not.

            How exactly does a leafy suburb of west London fulfil any of the criteria for the site of a sea water desalination plant?

            1. AndrueC Silver badge

              Re: 15 desalination plants

              Perhaps they are thinking ahead to the time when global warming has raised the ocean levels?

          2. Ross 7

            Re: 15 desalination plants

            Errr, Battersea is on the *river* not the estuary. Nowhere near salt water.

            Smugglers Way is closer to Slough than the sea!

            The T&L site on Factory Rd is a possibility, but given it's located very close to the Beckton plant it may just end up taking out more river water - the point of desalination is to leave the rivers well alone and use the sea.

            So you've named one spot out of a required 15, and that one spot is pretty much next door to an existing plant. It's not easy is it, ergo my post. London is chock full of stuff already - finding places you can build desalination plants is very, very difficult, unless cost isn't a factor and you're happy to pipe stuff for miles. And then leakages become a significant factor, so instead of 15 plants we need 30, so at least double LPs fag packet maths total.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had an issue with a politician in my constituency when I asked him what his opinion on desalination was and the fat f*ck didn't even know what it was.

    Le sigh.

  19. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Irrational rationing

    > ... and the creeping rationing of water meters continued to spread

    Personally I was very pleased to see the advent of "rationing" when the installation of a water meter at our house dropped the annual bill from a flat-rate £440 to a pay-for-what-you-use cost of £160 p.a. Though it's worth noting that this is still significantly higher; both in standing charge and in cost per m³, than water bills in "dry" areas such as the desert regions of Spain.

    As for the rest of the article, TL;DR

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Irrational rationing


      Why do people fucking do this? "Ooh, look at me, I couldn't be arsed to read something, and I think every-fucking-body needs to know about my tragically limited attention span."

      In fact I'm fucking amazed you managed to successfully write those 5 characters without getting distracted by a passing butterfly, wandering off after it and falling out of a 3rd floor window after forgetting you were upstairs. And even then half way to the ground you probably fucking expect to be able to fly, just because you forgot you have the aerodynamic properties of a graceless elephant caught in a wind tunnel.

      The one saving grace is that I could probably get away with insinuating your mother is a rampant french crack-whore and you wouldn't realise given as how you got bored of reading this already.

      Fuck, this is why I hate people.

      1. W.Hower

        Re: Irrational rationing

        I wish I'd said that. I hate them too.

    2. peter wegrzyn

      Re: Irrational rationing

      "when the installation of a water meter at our house dropped the annual bill from a flat-rate £440 to a pay-for-what-you-use cost of £160 p.a. "

      Lucky you, my fixed charges are half my old flat-rate bill and the per tonne price is so high my bills are near the old flat rate, even though I'm a single person using very little water. The flat rate is supposed to assume two people living in my flat. In fact with meter I hit the same charge with about 167liter one person average.

      Now I know water costs far less than 20p per tonne and thames charge 117p per tonne plus 580p for disposal

      1. Pete 2 Silver badge

        @peter wegrzyn

        > thames charge 117p per tonne plus 580p for disposal

        Holy crap! (actually, that might explain it) Thames charge us the same 117p / m³ to deliver but only 59p/m³ to take it away again. Odd that they're charging you 10 times as much.

        p.s. to AC 15:22: awwwwww! did someone not get their hug today?

        1. peter wegrzyn

          Re: @peter wegrzyn

          Typo, its 58p.

          Wife demanded a hug and.. oops.

          1. Greemble

            Re: @peter wegrzyn

            @15:28 GMT peter wegrzyn

            "... even though I'm a single person"


            @16:27 GMT peter wegrzyn

            "Wife demanded a hug..."


            Curious domestic arrangements you seem to have.

            Another typo, forget you were married or does she live somewhere else?

            Sherlock - there's a mystery here...

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. Some Beggar

    And once you have desalinated this water at sea level ...

    how does it magically pump itself to the consumers without using any additional energy?

    The conventional water supply for most of the UK takes advantage of a little thing called "gravity".

    Should everybody move to the Fens?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And once you have desalinated this water at sea level ...

      3 Billion litres of water a day are being lost though leaks.

      The leaks would be there regardless of where the water came from.

      1. Some Beggar

        Re: And once you have desalinated this water at sea level ...

        How does the presence or absence of leaks in the current system have any bearing on the fact that a large part of the UK population lives a non-trivial distance away from and above the sea?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And once you have desalinated this water at sea level ...

      The water in a reservoir does not flow uphill from a reservoir into your upstairs bathroom by force of gravity alone.

      Like it or not your water is already being pumped out, up a water tower, and down the pipes into your home!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And once you have desalinated this water at sea level ...

        @AC 15:57


        My water company were smart enough to make their reservoirs higher than the bathroom in pretty much all of the houses in my town. So, actually the water does flow by gravity into my bath.

      2. Some Beggar

        Re: And once you have desalinated this water at sea level ...

        Thank you. I am quite aware that some pumping is already required. I was wonering why the additional pumping required to get water from sea level to reservoirs had been ignored in Lewis's schoolboy arithmetic.

        Pumping water is hard. Many people in the UK do not live within easy reach of sea water. Even in Australia where most of the population live on the beach and they have available space to build plants near to populations they still require a serious amount of pumping. Either Lewis forgot about this, or he's being ... what word do the Mods allow? ... slightly disingenuous.

        (the water in my bathrooms does arrive by gravity alone, as it happens ... it rolls down a mountain and then down a glorified hosepipe ... I should probably insert a smug emoticon here or something)

        1. gloucester

          Re: And once you have desalinated this water at sea level ...

          Just perhaps this *is* something that Wind Power, which otherwise has supply/demand issues, might be good for? I think one of the other posts had it that running the desalination plant would only amount to c. 0.3% of electricity load, so minimal affect at smoothing generation peaks. When not taken out of the rivers, water currently comes from groundwater (by definition down), or reservoirs (often up); couldn't peak wind pump water from ground to hill-side, while on windless days the desalination plant re-fed the groundwater? The figures still might not work out right of course.

        2. Some Beggar

          Re: And once you have desalinated this water at sea level ...

          I take it none of the people downvoting my quesion about how we magically move all this seawater actually have an answer?

    3. Roger Greenwood

      "Should everybody move to the Fens?"

      The fens are busy pumping perfectly good water back into the sea otherwise the whole area will flood:-

      As has been mentioned many times, water is heavy and moving it around costs a lot.

      Icon shows pint of water with 5% impurities.

      1. Some Beggar

        Re: "Should everybody move to the Fens?"

        The fens are busy pumping perfectly good water back into the sea

        You know what ... I always vaguely assumed that the water pumped off the Fens was re-used somehow. But it's all down-river from the big reservoirs so I don't suppose it can be.

        The article may be twaddle but at least I've learned one thing.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And once you have desalinated this water at sea level ...

      naah , moving to Manchester / North Wales and Northumbria , coz it is frickin wet there all year around.

      1. Some Beggar

        Re: And once you have desalinated this water at sea level ...

        moving to Manchester / North Wales and Northumbria

        In the grand watery scheme of things this would make a fair bit of sense. But the only way a rapid mass migration like that would be feasible is if we were governed by a Chinese-style autocracy.

    5. Frederic Bloggs

      Re: And once you have desalinated this water at sea level ...

      Has any considered the up side of all these leaks at all?

      Bear in mind that the UK is heavily reliant on aquifers and that, during warmer months water does not translocate from the surface into said aquifers, therefore leaks have the side effect of replenishing the aquifer more efficiently than rain. And more quicker as the leaky pipes are generally a bit nearer as well!

      Pity that someone has spent a load of energy cleaning it first, but at least one can't complain that it's going to pollute anything.

  21. Sir Runcible Spoon


    If the politicians thought they could ration oxygen you can bet you're last breathe that they would.

    1. Some Beggar

      Re: Sir

      Let's hope they don't ration apostrophes.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon

        Re: Sir


      2. hplasm

        Re: Let's hope they don't ration apostrophes.

        Let's hope they bloody do.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmmm, I think there's a page missing

    Where are the bits about pumping water uphill and transporting the sudden massive influx of dirty salt?

    Not that I'm disagreeing with Lewis. I've been looking for more problems with this for a while.

    NB: Yes, I did see the idiotic post about tower blocks. I'm ignoring it for obvious reasons.

  23. MrXavia

    Lets get these desalination plants built!!!

    What I dont get is how in the fens we have to have pumps to stop us from becoming a bog again, but STILL have water restrictions? what are they doing with all that pumped water I see flowing out towards the sea every day?

  24. Jamie Kitson


    Does your "167 litres per person per day" include leaks? Because they're not going to go away if you desalinate, so if not then your figures are going to be out, and IIRC wastage through leaks is actually greater than actual usage.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: wastage through leaks

      At least one of "your recollection" and "Auntie's recent article on this very subject" is mistaken.

      1. Jamie Kitson

        Re: wastage through leaks

        I could have just read boot note 3:

        Leakage today is down to 600 million litres a day, meaning that London actually needs supplies increased by half again over what people use.

  25. Dave Bell

    Stpupid Reactions

    We're officially in a drought.

    Beckton should be running flat-out, 24/7, until the drought stops.

  26. Tony Barnes

    How much carbon now?

    Did I miss this in the article? How much carbon / cash is used / spent on the current water treatment system?

    Surely the cost of a new system should be it's total cost minus the cost of the old system?

    Also would be worth factoring in the business related costs associated with having the decking road dug up all the time....

    Sounds like a great plan though

    1. Some Beggar

      Re: How much carbon now?

      You don't reduce those existing costs. The desalination plants top up the reservoirs - the rest of the system remains the same. How do you imagine desalination will prevent leaks or stop the roads from being dug up?

  27. NomNomNom

    "Because, we are told, desalination is "carbon intensive". That is, the energy used in a reverse-osmosis plant involves serious CO2 emissions."

    Told by who? Ie [citation needed]

    It's striking that in the whole article no quotes are provided to support the various links made to the phantom green menace.

    The only near exception is this part: "Maybe we should, in fact, stop watering our gardens, stop washing our cars - even stop washing our clothes and ourselves, as some scientists advocate."

    To which the article linked to quoted the scientist as saying:

    "Advertisers [have] convinced us that our shirts must always be "whiter than white", our sheets should forever smell of spring flowers, and that to be dressed in freshly laundered clothes at all times is a badge of success. We live in a "wear once and wash" culture."

    But it doesn't look like he's saying stop washing clothes as claimed. What he's saying is more along the lines of don't wear them just once between washes, which is very different than not washing them *at all*

    1. NomNomNom

      Actually after reading up about the London desalination plant - mainly newspaper articles at the time it was proposed and after it was built, I see there was opposition to it from environmental groups due to it's high energy use, including CO2 emissions. I'll leave my post up above but just add this as a correction.

  28. SirDigalot

    doesn't matter how much water you produce or find

    if it cannot get where it is going, gallons of the bloody stuff falls from the sky almost on a daily basis, it is fairly clean too, well, sort of, however, in the end once you have captured it made it potable enough for the plebs, you have to get it to them, and that has been the issue, apparently they are using some super-lightweight pipe design that has 50% of the weight of normal pipe, but also has 50% more holes.

    That said the UK is frightfully overcrowded.

    rainbarrels FTW - and preferably hot girls washing their hair in them like i remember some hair product advert on the boobtube years ago....

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Building and running a desal plant is not cheap...

    As the state of Victoria in Australia found out:


    The capital cost for the project was initially estimated to be $2.9 billion in the initial feasibility study, this was later revised to $3.1 billion[18] and then to $3.5 billion. After the winning bidder was announced it was revised to $4 billion.

    Operating costs are to be charged by a private firm over a 25–30 year period and are estimated to be around $1.5 billion. This includes labour, replacement of membranes, chemicals costs and energy, and were initially estimated at $132 million per annum.[19] Unlike previous water infrastructure works in Melbourne, the plant will be built and operated as a public-private partnership.

    A report by the Water Services Association of Australia conducted in 2008, modelling several national water-supply scenarios for 2030, determined that sourcing water supply from seawater desalination was the most energy-intensive. The report predicted that if desalination became the primary source of supplying around 300 litres (66 imp gal; 79 US gal) per person per day, energy usage would rise by 400% above today's levels."

    1. Tim99 Silver badge

      Re: Building and running a desal plant is not cheap...

      Maybe the State of Victoria is not very good at it? The State of Western Australia produces about one third of the output of Wonthaggi at about one tenth of the capital cost:

      The Binningup plant at Bunbury has already been commissioned, and is expected to be near full capacity later this year:

      Interestingly the water is usualy of better quality than that from the local groundwater and reservoirs.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Building and running a desal plant is not cheap...

      "Operating costs are to be charged by a private firm over a 25–30 year period and..."

      Sounds like they used PFI to fund it, in which case I'm surprised how cheap it seems to be turning out for them. They should study similar-sized projects in the UK and see how cost overruns *ought* to be done.

    3. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

      Australian Experience

      I'd be interested in hearing what the Australian readers have to say to this when they wake up. They have huge water issues, have done for years, and yet desalination hasn't turned out to be the panacea you'd expect - bit of a political disaster as I recall, and they have a lot more land and a lot more sunshine to work with.

      Australians! Now at last is your chance to add something of value! Pipe up, there's a good prisoner.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Australian Experience

        We had a drought for a few decades.

        The drought ended as they invariably do.

        The geen bogeyman shouting loudly from atop Parliament House while disguised as a sentient being "we're all gonna die and it will never rain again and the river systems will never flow again blah blah blah" was proven wrong as such catastrophists invariably have been throughout human history.

        I flew over Australia recently and was astounded at the greenness of it all. Mindboggingingly large amounts of surface water. I recalled my childhood when a trip to Adelaide via Broken Hill was a mass of greenery and not an insignificant amount flooded roadways. The Paroo has been running. Warragamba has overflowed (in itself an event of biblical proportions).

        All bets are off, situation normal, plenty of water, mothball the desal plants.

        I am led to believe that building desalination plants in theEast Coast was and is a pointless, costly exercise, but that is hearsay.

        The problem of youth (and the green lunatic fringe in general) is that few of them are old enough to have lived through the dustbowl storms and the previous periods of long drought and/or massive flooding. The average needs a big sample space.


        WA is a desert, and different rules apply than NSW

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Building and running a desal plant is not cheap...

      According to wikipedia 400million liters requires about 100 MW. The source of this is uncited and there is no indication if this it the constant load or per hour.

      Bullshit article, the figures are impossible to justify.

  30. Anonymous Coward 101


    I understand that the big problem with leaks in London is the age of the water pipes and the fact that digging the road up to replace them is hugely inconvenient and costly.

  31. qwertyuiop

    Both candidates?

    "Londoners vote tomorrow in the capital's mayoral elections, but both candidates..."

    and there was me thinking I had to choose between seven candidates! (,_2012)

    1. Andrew James

      Re: Both candidates?

      The article does continue to say Ken & Boris, who are the only likely winners... which is probably correct.

      1. qwertyuiop

        Re: Both candidates?

        I totally agree, but the fact remains that there are seven candidates, not two.


        1. Chris Miller

          Only one candidate

          Some bookies are already paying out if you've bet on BoJo (Betfair have him at 1:100).

  32. Stevie


    Not arguing the choice issue, nor the worth of investigating the LP option but:

    a) Costs of desalination are not just the costs of the electricity. The plants must be built to do the job and then they must be maintained. These sorts of operations are hell on the old infrastructure, especially when you have brine as part of the equation. All in all, worth properly costing and investigating.

    2) The case for the prosecution swings from London to the UK as a whole and back again. I venture to suggest that London != UK as a whole. Stop trying to sell us this "Lawns for Londoners" plan as a "Greensward for All" one, you cad. We all know that once everyone has paid for the desalinated water the snotty city types will keep it for themselves and everyone else will be showering with gravel.

    Never mind. Once global warming has had its way with the ice-caps, everyone will have all the water they can deal with if that nice Mr Gore is right.

  33. regadpellagru

    Follow the money !

    "... numerically illiterate Greens and journalists."

    This is one part of the problem. Many journalists can't add 2 and 2 without any mistake. So understanding a business case for a water plan, forget it. That's why anyone can persuade them of any number (including numbers in the trillion as they have no idea what they are) without a blink from them.

    The other part of the problem is ... follow the money. And see how it may very well lead to big water companies which sole financial interest is to pressure consumers at 0 investment of any kind. Then, throwing a couple of grands to a political big mouth does the trick of keeping their interest safe.

  34. Spider

    wrong way round

    There's more than enough water. Just too many people.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: wrong way round


    2. Some Beggar
      Thumb Down

      Re: wrong way round

      First rule of eugenics: start with the eugenicists and misanthropes.

    3. Silverburn

      Re: wrong way round

      Groan...and here come the "volunteer" cliches...

      Surprised nobody has mentioned Soylent Green or death camps yet. Maybe the daily mailers are too busy being close-minded on other forums.

      You do realise that Optimal population planning doesn't require such draconial and unethical measures?

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: draconian measures

        Dunno about 'Optimal population planning' with a capital 'O', so I googled it and I got exactly 1 hit. (I think that's a first for me.) Sadly for this comment thread, it was pointing to an abstract of a paper behind a paywall, so I'm none the wiser.

        I do know that of all the population planning methods ever tried in the whole history of humanity, the only one that worked was raising the economic and educational status of women. However ... I've never heard anyone say "The problem is we have too many people. We must raise educational standards and promote sexual equality until the population begins to fall of its own accord.". Consequently, I get rather tired of people who claim population control or planning as an answer to anything.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Anglian Water claims desalination plants would put the cost of water up by more than ten times. Are we to assume this is bullcrap then?

  36. lee harvey osmond


    I suggest that the reason people denounce reverse-osmosis desalination as carbon intensive is because they don't understand it. They do understand distillation, which is carbon intensive even with lots of fancy heat exchangers to reclaim heat where possible, and so there is a (numbers-free) idea in some people's heads that reverse-osmosis desalination must be as carbon intensive as distillation.

    Which it isn't.

    I drank water produced by reverse-osmosis desalination when on holiday in Tobago. It tasted funny.

    I have read (non-authoritative sources) that there are health implications to persistent ingestion of demineralised water as produced by reverse-osmosis desalination. And (same Wikipedia article) it rots the utility companies' plumbing because it's more acidic. But (same etc) the lack of solutes make it really good for washing cars and assorted industrial processes.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Innumeracy?

      When you desalinate water for drinking, I'd imagine you'd add trace minerals back in, to bring it up to similar levels to soft (nancy) Northern water, rather than hard (real men's) Southern water.

      Heart attacks are lower in hard water areas than soft, although I can't remember if there's enough difference to care about or not. But I'd imagine you'd want to re-mineralise desalinated water.

      You're also right that de-mineralised water is bad for metal pipes. You tend to get pinhole corrosion, as it attacks them. Normally where you use this kind of water you use stainless steel or plastic pipe (or just put up with more frequent replacement).

      It is a very interesting set of calculations though. On the con side, you've probably got higher pumping costs, planning difficulties with siting desalination plants, all that energy used, and of course running costs. Those membranes are bloody expensive, and have to be replaced quite frequently.

      But the pro-side is also pretty interesting. You can do less environmental damage by abstracting less from rivers. You should have less problems with drought. Also there's limescale to think about. An awful lot of energy gets wasted on water heating, due to the massive inefficiencies that scale introduces. If you could make South Eastern water soft, then boiler plant would last much longer, and we'd have to use much less energy to get the same amount of water heating done. Plus less need for softening plant, chemicals in cooling towers etc.

      Leakage is pretty much irrelevant though. Those leaky pipes have to be replaced at some point, or they'll fall apart, and it's silly to spend money treating water, to then lose it. Even if fixing leaks looks expensive, it pays off in the long term.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rising cost of ale

    I was told in my east sussex local that the prices went up by 20p because of the drought not the budget as I had thought.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon


      That makes total sense, after all there are increased costs involved with not having as much water to distribute.

    2. David Pollard

      Re: Rising cost of ale

      Maybe you can persuade the landlord to refrain from watering the beer until the drought has ended.

  38. Dan Paul

    How do you have a "drought" when it supposedly rains all the time in England?

    First, it seem all your politicians are baldface liars who are in the pay of water companies and environmental activists. The only solution to that type of politician is to send them to prison or death, your choice. Politicians are like Vogons and crap filled diapers, the world will be a better place without them.

    Next, everyone needs one bath or shower per day or society begins to smell. The practice of not bathing or excessive cologne is intolerable and will eventually cause unrest especially in close quarters like subways and offices. England is NOT France!

    Solar or Wind energy is ideal for powering desalinization plants and osmosis is MUCH less expensive now. Astute readers are correct that water has to be pumped to reach your tap and that water could be pumped through osmotic columns using offpeak energy and then up into water towers or reservoirs that are located at higher elevation than the homes they feed and let gravity do much of the work. Filtering the particulate out of the water before osmosis is also very important but strangely enough this process is part of normal water purification so there is no additional energy cost.

    Excess salt water from the osmotic purification process CAN be stored in ponds and evaporated to produce dry salt with sunlight or excess heat from some industrial process. What does a container of sea salt cost in the market? More than enough to help outweigh some of the purification costs I am sure. How about salt used for de-icing roads? Water softeners use salt as well.

    Next, there are many municipalities that use in situ pipe relining to fix water leaks and it does not require digging up the whole length of the street to be installed. However, the people in charge of almost all water systems in the world, have been deliberately delaying pipe maintenance for 40 or more years so the stuff is so decayed that relining can't be done. Who is to blame for that? Not the consumer!

    Bad planning on your part does not constitute and emergency (or added cost) on my part.

  39. Ben 50

    Great Scott...

  40. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton

    Well done el Reg!

    Sirs and Madams at el Reg

    My compliments on your skills of discernment and reporting especially the bit about civil servants and politicians.

    These days it appears that politicians are merely the front-faces taking the responsibilities for poor governance while Whitehall remains full of decision makers.

    In short, UK democracy has been turned upside down with Labour merely being mouthpiece for Whitehall mandarins.

    But! There are more civil servants than politicians be that Whitehall versus Commons or Councillors versus Town Hall.

    Not only that but civil servants are paid better than politicians.

    Assuming weight of numbers and salaries awarded are key performance indicators then Whitehall and Town Hall will squash and squish politicians out of the decision taking.

    This means we have two rounds of rubber stamping. One is royalty rubber-stamping the Commons decisions and the other is Commons decisions rubber-stamping Whitehall/Town Hall decisions assuming, of course, that HM Treasury permitted those options in the first place.

    Water? Yes please, may I have a glass full?

  41. AndrueC Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Okay so you desalinate. Ignoring the energy consumption side - what do you do with all the salt?

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Put it

      on various politicians and watch them shrivel and dry up while leaving a nasty ikky mess

    2. Chemist

      "what do you do with all the salt?"

      It's brine that's higher in salt than the source. Just dump it in the sea - most of the pure water generated is going to end up there fairly quickly so the sea isn't going to get any saltier

    3. squigbobble

      Dump it in the sea. Nobody will notice...

  42. Old Handle
    Thumb Down

    Oh shut up

    Desalinization has been available but seldom used, for ages, and all around the world. Obviously environmentalists are to blame for that, not the fact that it isn't cost effective. Right?

  43. Schultz

    The math is off

    I think the math in this article is far off the mark. Quick browsing of real-world desalination plants indicates a price of 1-2 $ per tonne of water produced. Look here for some scientific cost estimate for water from desalination plants. Surprise news: there is cost beyond building something and purchasing fuel.

    If we talk about cost >>100-200 £ per person, it starts to hurt.

    If you second guess officialdom, please do some research. Else you may loose the pissing contest with your local politicians and look the idiot!

  44. Smudge@mcr

    You may not know..

    ..but in the late 1970's this was predicted in a report presented to the government of the day that London would run out of water by 2010.

    The solution was to build a national grid of water pipes connecting up the then regional water boards.

    Water could then be moved around the country easily from the wet northern areas to the dry south.

    The idea was scrapped by Thatcher as too expensive.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: You may not know..

      She blocked BT's offer to roll FTTP out across the country as well.

      What a cow.

  45. John Savard


    I should think that there is an obvious explanation for this.

    The last time most people had even heard of desalination was back when it was used by places like Sa'udi Arabia back when there was no such thing as a modern reverse-osmosis desalination plant. Hence, people tend to think of it as an exotic and specialized option.

    So there's no existing public pressure to keep providing water by that method, and if politicians can continue to keep it a secret, then they're free to avoid other public pressures by not adding to energy use through expanded desalination.

    Of course, boiling seawater with solar mirrors doesn't even have a carbon footprint, but then people would complain about the environmental impact of huge reservoirs.

  46. johnwerneken

    This is why Government should not be allowed to have laws policies or activities about hardly anything, so that there is no voice of the people or of anyone else either, just business. Government provides defense , justice, stable money, that is it. People get or not the rest as the can. In a rich place, justice (internal peace) is furthered by a reasonable safety net. Once in a while a government may cause a net benefit by investing in research or infrastructure. It is possible internal cohesion and prosperity may be fostered by education vouchers as well.

    But dumb ideas like environmentalism should go no further than the pocketbooks of their believers.

  47. JeffyPooh

    Canada has plenty of water, eh?

    So much that we typically just let it run into the oceans. Huge rivers.

    We borrow our household water from about 100m underground, inconvenience it for a few days, and then release it back into the wild (treated). Overall, our household "consumes" no water whatsoever.

    Minor point: +1kWh on 50kWh is +2% or so. That's almost, but not quite insignificant.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You're forgetting the fundamental point. Supply & Demand.

    Limited supply means that they get to charge higher prices equalling more profit. And in today's society it's profit above all else.

  49. N2


    Do simple sums?

    Non! c'est ne pas possible

    1. Some Beggar


      Do simple French?


  50. Battsman

    I suppose ocean ecology isn't important

    Throughout the comment thread I've seen: "What does one do with the brine by product?" and generally the responses have been "pump it back in the ocean."

    I'm guessing the fact that concentrated brine reduces oxygen levels in the surrouding ocean water isn't overly important. Similarly, the fact that most aquatic species are pretty highly adapted to specific ranges of water salinity - ranges which are disturbed by the return of high salinity water - isn't of particular import either.

    There are reasons that most desalination plants require extraordinary environmental studies prior to approval - and it isn't just because government employees are paid to impeded progress. One desal plant in an area might be sustainable - as you extract larger amounts out of estuaries - even large ones like the Thames you reach a critical point where the local ecology cannot withstand the impact.

    Mayhaps, a more rational concept might be a mixture of desal, re-use, and conservation? Nah, because at least two of those would require some level of personal responsibility and / or modification of behavior.

    Unhappy face because I've actually worked in the water / wastewater industry and know there isn't a simple, singular panacea that is ignored because silly greenies just don't want to be practical...

    1. oddie

      Re: I suppose ocean ecology isn't important

      I reckon before any desalination plant would be built there would be a proper study of the enviromental factors carried out beforehand, but doing some off the top of my head logic:

      5X amounts of water is taken from a river/ocean, whatever.

      3X amounts of water with a increased salt content is pumped back into the source

      2X of water without salt is used, abused and then put back into the source (londonians flushing their toilets/washingmachines/showers/baths back into the thames.

      there would be some evaporation, and some absorbtion by lawns and such, but the majority of the water would get back into the thames and I can't see how it would increase the salinity notably.

      (taking water out and adding it back in either through pumping the brine back or from household wastewater getting back into the thames would obviously not occour at the very same spots, so there would be localised increases in salinity)

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe just use less

    Reading the article the logic seems a little flawed - surely the cheapest option is to use less - encourage consumers to do this by metering (i.e. you pay for what you use with variations depending on household size). Mind you I live the North so its not really an issue at the moment (maybe some Londoners should move North...Or not)

  52. Jim Birch

    Sea water contains a lot of boron which passes through the osmotic filters. You wouldn't want to drink it undiluted if you are young, old, etc. Allowable levels of boron have been bumped up lately in places where osmosis plant are being built without any new empirical evidence. I think you'll find recycling waster water is a much safer, smarter and cheaper option if possible. People just have to get over drinking recycled water.

    For a good summary see

  53. Peter Galbavy
    Black Helicopters

    There is NO real drought

    This drought shit is all a conspiracy anyway between the private water companies - who want legislation to force metering on all households - and the makers bottled water who want to sell more product. This latter might be a joke. You decide.

    I was in Bonaire a number of years ago and all their drinking water is desalinated. The result is that tap water is pure and clean and you don't have to worry about drinking it as a tourist. Extra bonus, but only if you don't mix it with the normal London water supply.

    Perhaps the questions should be more focused on why a "natural monopoly" like water supply is privatised ? Electric and gas can almost be justified as they could be considered as competing with each other, but water ?

  54. Pen-y-gors

    Use less, use it differently

    No comment about the maths, but whatever the price of desalinated water, it's bloody expensive if you're going to then use it to flush half a pint of pee down the loo.

    I'm sure it's not too complicated to work out some modifications to household plumbing systems to create a holding tank for bathroom waste water that is then used to fill/flush the toilet. 30% of household water goes down the pan (source: Waterwise). Yes, you'd use a teensy bit of electricity to pump the water from the bath to the tank, but it's a hell of a lot less than desalination!

  55. Silverburn

    Whatever happened to the innovative stuff like rainwater collection (on a grand scale), domestic level cleaning & recycling, metering, industrial size "dew condensors" for farms etc etc.

    A lot lower technology and energy requirements. You can then keep the desalinators for "emergency use", which would be rare. Afterall, collecting just 50% more of our rainwater would solve most of the drought issues.

  56. Michael Hutchinson

    Surely the problem... a combination of over population in the affected areas, much more people than the water systems were designed to ever need to cope with, coupled with the sheer idiocy of having companies, whose only purpose is to make a profit, running vital infrastructure.

    And before the pedant-mobile turns up, all private and publicly held companies exist for one sole ultimate purpose, to make a profit. That's the part of capitalism that people fail to understand.

    All the previous comments already deal with Lewis, so I needn't add anything more there :-)

  57. bobgbob
    Thumb Down

    Resevoir or National water grid

    I see that the government is cancelling an idea to build a resvoir in Oxfordshire that I think is half the size of lake Windermere for £1 Billion because of a few animals or something. I can't see why we can't go ahead with it. I don't want sea water. I am told that the process is not perfect. There is still the taste of salt in the water. The water tastes bad. I don't want second rate water. Why can't we slowly work towards a good solution and pay the bill over a long time and be done with it. Also slowly put in a grid system. It would be good to have the water authorities competing with each other to bring down prices like we did with the electricity and gas suppliers.

  58. Mr. Anonymous Coward ... thank you!


    This article is great.

    It seems that most of the 'mainstream' media is completely falling for the "not enough rainfall" line that the water companies are using. The fact that inept management and inadequate investment from successive governments and private water companies over the last decade has led to a woefully inadequate water system seems to have gone unnoticed.

    It's nice to see somebody looking at the problem slightly differently, and doing some basic maths to come up with a new solution. I don't even care if it's accurate (although it looks pretty logical to me). At least it's a better attempt at a solution than hoping it'll rain more over winter.

  59. Grumbleist

    Blame Thatcher

    The main issue here is that we privatised our critical infrastructure for a few short term quid, and handed over the reigns to some clever investment bankers who proceeded to - shock - make profit their singular aim. Oh sure there are rules, but the power is already been seeded.

    Beckton is a token gesture, a hint that they do know what they ought to be doing, but why should they care.

    Government have never been as strong or as clever as the bankers. OfWat, or any regulator come to that is hopelessly outmanned. We just exposed the banks as cheating liars, bailed them out, and now we all go back to sleep.

    But at the end of the day we voted for Thatcher and got privatisation, and a few cheap British Gas shares. We were the greedy ones.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon


      Seeded != ceded

    2. scott 30

      Re: Blame Thatcher

      Actually, no "we" didn't. I was 9 when she came to power. My parents - and the vast majority of people in Scotland and other areas of the UK - didn't vote for her either.

      Still - everyone in the UK continues to pay for the idiotic concept that critical civil infrastructure is "more efficiently run" by the private sector. Surely this myth has been well and truly busted? Sure, some people in the 70s voted for that shopkeeper's daughter - but how many of them would have been even remotely aware of the whole privatization angle and it's probably consequences?

      The British sheeple have been sold down the river, and are up a creek with a paddle on this though. How laughable is it that a wet island like the UK - and not that long ago the epitome of 1st world technology - can't even keep the taps running, which if I remember my high school geography was one of the defining criteria for a "civilized 1st world" country. I'm just glad I left!

  60. Lloyd

    Thames Water

    I emailed them asking if they could provide me figures for the total volume of water storage facilities they control and their total number of customers, immediately prior to privatisation and currently. It took them a month to email me back with "Why?" (obviously I've condensed it somewhat but that was the gist).

    1. GatesFanbois

      Re: Thames Water

      Yeah cause it's not like it is on their website or anything, oh wait a minute yes it is.

      Table 7 for number of water customers, table 3 for props connected to sewerage system, tables 10, 10a and 10b for meaningful stats relating to demand and deployable output, total storage volume is a meaningless metric.

      1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

        Re: Thames Water

        "...tables 10, 10a and 10b for meaningful stats relating to demand and deployable output, total storage volume is a meaningless metric..."

        Well, up to a point. Total storage volume IS meaningless on its own - it needs to be related to average/peak input to the system and average/peak demand. If the input or demand vary considerably, then increased storage is needed to buffer the variation. If the figures do not vary much, then you can get away with little storage.

        This data can be obtained from the Thames Water data and other sources, but only after a great deal of work. When you do this, you find that average input varies quite widely. Year-on-year variation of 33% rainfall either side of the nominal average is quite usual. And demand is constantly rising.

        It is easy to see from this that, unless storage is increased in line with demand, we will first start to hit problems when there are exceptional years, and then this issue will increase so that problems will occur during the 'dry' parts of otherwise fairly normal years. Eventually, supply problems will become endemic, and occur at all times, even when there is quite good input. This is beginning to happen.

        In 2004 the SE water companies proposed 5 new reservoirs and three extensions to existing reservoirs to cover their predictions, and avoid hitting supply problems. ALL of these plans have been rejected at the planning stage by government inspectors, who appear to be applying a 'demand management' strategy rather than a 'supply management' one. There has been no discussion of any need or justification for this, and it appears to be based on a mistaken concept of water as a 'scarce resource'. It is not, of course. It is an infinite resource which passes through us in a cycle. We can store as much as we want to, and our storage will not affect the sum total of water available to the world one bit.

        The typical argument you will see in the rejection of these plans is that:

        "...this reservoir will not be needed if demand can be cut by 20% in accordance with government policy..."

        This is true. If we cut our demand by 20% (which is the figure specified in the government's water strategy document "Water Futures"(2008), then we will not have this problem again until the SE population rises by another 20%. What is rarely mentioned is that the cost of 'cutting demand' (beyond a few small token projects) is high. Providing rainfall storage on all commercial buildings, for instance, is nearly 100 times more expensive than providing a reservoir and supplying the same amount of water to the buildings via the mains.

        The other thing that is not mentioned is WHY we should be doing this. 'Saving water' does not actually 'save water', because water is never destroyed. What it does is 'save centralised infrastructure expenditure'. At the cost of greatly increased local infrastructure expenditure. And, if you are worried about environmental issues, using localised infrastructure is vastly less efficient, uses much more energy, generates much more CO2, and is much worse for the planet in every sense.

        So why do we do it? I have not got any answer for that. It makes no sense from the figures. I believe that it is happening because the magic words 'save' and 'environment' can be wielded by a 'green' policy maker, and because NOBODY in a policy position is able, or wants to, understand a mathematical argument....

  61. despun

    back story

    Dr. Richard North's website ( has the background on this. Bloke's a expert on the guts of bureaucracy that most of us would rather not delve onto.

    1. PT

      Re: back story

      And as North correctly observes, it's not the British politicians that are to blame. They are quite powerless. The UK government has been castrated by the EU and reduced to the legislative level of a parish council. They have no power to set water policy, and in fact the only power they do have is to obstruct other peoples' efforts that for one reason or another don't line up with the directives from Brussels.

      One wonders why our leaders don't come out and admit this. Perhaps they think it would be like standing up on a porn movie set and admitting they're impotent, but the shame would be momentary compared with the scorn if they insist on trying to complete the movie.

  62. Richie 1

    What about dam building?

    Nearly 100 years ago, the Netherlands built the Zuiderzee Works (a big dam) and turned a salty sea into a giant freshwater lake. The UK could easily build something similar, from Margate up to Harwich, say and Londoners would have all the freshwater they could ever want, no desalination required.

    A bigger upfront cost for sure, but there are other benefits. In the Netherlands, they reclaimed some land, for new towns and farming. If we could replicate that, it would be really useful for densely populated SE England.

    1. Corp-Rat

      Re: What about dam building?

      Never mind the natural and farmed marine life that are in that area eh?

      The Whitstable oysters are the first that spring to mind.

      (not that I'm personally bothered, can't stand shellfish)

  63. James 36


    hardline extremist

    thinking sensibly

    are mutually exclusive aren't they ?

    applies to all extremists regardless of colour

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So... rather than trying to consume a little less, we should spend money to selfishly continue wasting water in a horribly inefficient and wasteful manner.

    Great plan.

    How about we go without the luxury of spraying potable water on the dirt, get off our lazy asses and use a watering can or a sponge and bucket, and spend the money giving drinkable water to some of the poor sods int he world who don't have any?

    1. Audrey S. Thackeray

      Helping people who don't have safe drinking water is a laudable aim - but not one that is incompatible with re-examining our own water supply infrastructure.

      Intuitively there's something daft about making water that is safe to drink and then using it to flush our crap away but our first thoughts on the process aren't necessarily correct.

      A single, national infrastructure to supply drinking-quality water for all purposes may be cheaper that a series of more local systems for water collection and re-use.

      As the water itself is not 'wasted' it's reasonable to make a decision based on cost (you might want to include 'green' costs if you are that way inclined).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Do what they do in Australia: Collect rainwater from your roof and store it in a bladder. Use it for the garden, cars and toilets.

        It costs a couple of grand per house at start-up but saves in the long term.

  65. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Desal is expensive. Start simpler and smarter.

    Faced with the real risk that, even with permanent and stringent water conservation measures, the reservoirs supplying the Aussie city of Melbourne will run dry during the *actual* drought conditions that they now face (ie: during the dry parts of the El Nina/La Nino cycle that affects that part of the world it doesn't actually rain at all, sometimes for years at time), they invested in a desal plant for nearby Wonthaggi. So far it is two years late. Capital costs have risen from AUD3.1B to AUD5.7B, or £3.6B. Although it hasn't yet delivered any water, in theory it *will* be able to deliver something like 150 gigalitres a year, or ~ 1/3rd of the needs of Melbourne.

    Desal is always an option, but it has to come a *long* way after doing some simple stuff - like actually having some reservoirs to store the stuff that we currently let run off into the sea or merely building the pipelines around that country that would let market forces work.

    1. artbristol

      Re: Desal is expensive. Start simpler and smarter.

      The problem in Australia is politics - it's ten times worse than in the UK. 'Normal' water consumption (domestic, industry etc.) is dwarfed by consumption by farmers. There is no need for the dry south east of Australia to be growing that much food, when it could be grown and imported from the wetter north.

      And of course, politicians there prevent the price of water from varying enough to put the farmers out of business, which it blatantly would if domestic users were allowed to compete in a free market for it.

  66. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Infinity or not?

    "...Supplies of water on this planet are not actually without end - even the oceans aren't truly limitless - but they are infinite in a practical sense..."

    This betrays some odd thinking by Lewis. It is true that the oceans are certainly not 'limitless', but we do not drink the oceans until they are dry.

    Water moves in a cycle through us. The water we have drunk is not destroyed - it just passes through us back into the hydrological cycle. We can, and do, continue to drink the same water, and can keep doing so until the end of time. It will not, and can not, run out.

    I would say that this means that supplies ARE infinite. Unless Lewis can tell me where the end of the line is on a circle...?

    1. Some Beggar

      Re: Infinity or not?

      where the end of the line is on a circle...?

      In a few billion years when either the solar wind blows the atmosphere and oceans clean off the face of the planet or when the earth drifts far enough from the shrinking sun that the atmosphere and oceans freeze.


    2. Audrey S. Thackeray

      @D. Geezer

      "odd thinking by Lewis"

      No, his thinking on this particular point is fine.

      It doesn't matter that water moves in a cycle, there is still a finite amount of the stuff.

      It's such a staggeringly large amount that we are unlikely ever to have to give it practical consideration though.

  67. scatter

    Emisisons & Cost

    Ah another 'Analysis' from Lewis. Some crude back of the envelope calculations:

    Greenhouse gas emissions from desalination are by no means trivial. Assuming that the 7kWh per tonne figure is correct then this equates to greenhouse gas emissions of 3.4kgCO2 per tonne (based on 0.48644kgCO2e/kWh). Current ghg intensity of water supply in the UK is 0.34kgCO2e per tonne so we're talking about supplying water with 10 times the GHG emissions as is done currently. for the factors

    And people who hate on renewables (i.e. The Register) are always telling us how having backup plant is wasteful and expensive. But here Lewis is proposing constructing a load of desalination plants for the occasional drought. What is the cost of keeping this plant operating under capacity?

    They're also telling us how renewables are putting intolerable burdens on our energy bills but here Lewis is suggesting adding £22 of OPEX (being kind and ignoring the suggestions in comments above that this is an underestimate) and £25 of CAPEX (assuming it's paid off over 20 years and I can't be bothered to calculate the NPV) per *person*.

    That's an increase in water bills of over £100 per household per year which represents an increase of nearly 30% in the average water and sewage bill (£350). But that's the cost of water AND sewage so the cost of the water component of your bill would likely increase by well over 50%.

    What a great suggestion this is!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Emisisons & Cost - thumbs up

      I agree - I can't believe how many people here up vote everything that gets them something - with no thought for how damaged our environment already is. And a stupid little bit of recycling isn't going to help either! Jeez - the problem is already far worse than that. Policy of declining population levels - ultimately better standard of living. Each child NOT born = approx. 70 years of 100% recycling. That IS effective.


      Re: "What is the cost of keeping this plant operating under capacity?"

      From TFA:

      Alone among British water companies London's Thames Water does actually possess a single desalination plant, at Beckton on the Thames Estuary, but this only has the capacity to produce 150 million litres a day - less than 10 per cent of the city's requirements - and it is run at low output or *completely shut down* most of the time.

      1. scatter

        Re: "What is the cost of keeping this plant operating under capacity?"

        Well it doesn't actually tell us anything about the costs of undercapacity... and the costs of having 15 plants which are almost never operating? Who is going to finance that?

  68. Alex King
    Thumb Down


    Here's a plan that costs nothing at all - cut the wages of public sector employees in London and encourage them to move to wetter places. Then you don't need as much water in London.

    Unfortunately the government wants to do the exact opposite, and crowd the South East further. With any luck, that corner of the country will reach critical mass, snap off and sink.

    In general, the whole "why should I change my lifestyle - SOMEONE should DO SOMETHING about getting me more water" attitude is pretty hateful. If you live beyond your means in terms of any resource, be it money, water or whatever then either earn more, use less or go and live somewhere you can afford.

    1. Audrey S. Thackeray

      Re: London

      Well, fine. I'll move where the binmen and nurses go - enjoy yourself with the lawyers and bankers.

      1. Alex King

        Re: London

        I don't live in London, but never mind...


    "numerically illiterate"

    'Innumerate' , Shirley?

  70. bigwusser

    Water Wheels!

    Couldn't we just use a water wheel to produce the electricity needed to run the plant and then use the same water to desalinate?

    So, the water falls over the wheel (special electrification magic takes place) and then the water passes into the desalination area for processing.

    Bits about sludge, excess salt etc are all minor points..we'll sort those out later.

  71. Jeff 11

    There has been a peculiar turnabout in regards to all products derived from natural resources - to use less rather than create more, as we've done in the past. Why are western societies obsessed with making things more complicated (e.g. creating an infrastructure to reuse greywater) and our lives less enjoyable by enforcing rationing rather than just investing enough to make resource waste an irrelevance? We can create vast amounts of electricity (and reduce carbon emissions, if you care about that) for homes and industry by investing in nuclear, we can create hydrocarbons for vehicles by investing in biotechnology that produces kerosene via algae, and we can create drinking water by desalinating the sea. I'm not advocating the idea that all resources are infinite, or that stopping the waste of comparatively rare materials isn't a laudable goal, but to the most part we're talking about replacable resources which can be practically generated using modern technology.

    Sooner or later society is going to have to grow up and realising that reducing resource usage and waste is only going to have a marginal effect in solving problems of supply in a world that's becoming more and more densely populated with increasing living standards.

    1. Charles 9

      Beacuse each tech has its detractors.

      Nuclear? Guess where the term "Not In My Back Yard" became famous. Everyone's scared of a plant become the next Chernobyl (sorry, but rare as it is, nuclear plants HAVE failed with consequences that are extremely difficult to measure--and therefore VERY scary).

      Biofuels? If it were really all that, why aren't private firms lining up at the gate to try to work on the next big thing since the oil well? Indeed, how close are we really to a commercially-useable technology for making fuels from plant byproducts? And for that matter, how do we get the byproducts together to start the process, and all the other small but costly logistics that are needed to get the hob done?

      Desalination? Power-intensive, and without access to nuclear power (remember, the next Chernobyl?) it becomes impractical. Most places that desal are like the Middle East or small island nations: lacking in alternatives.

      And YES, these detractors REALLY WOULD rather go without than invest in making plenty because they believe excess breeds decadence which in turn could cause corruption and eventually the end of civilization as we know it (just look at Rome, they'll say).

  72. k9gardner

    Misses the point

    Water conservation is one thing, and rationing is another. I'm sure alternatives to rationing can be found in the non-arid region in and around London. I think the author of this article gets totally bogged down however in staking his entire argument on a specific methodology of solving the problem, without sufficiently looking at the "big picture" impact of that methodology. There are many sources of information on the downside of desalination. One such puts it this way: "The process of desalination is not per se environmentally friendly and seawater desalination plants also contribute to the wastewater discharges that affect coastal water quality. This is mostly due to the highly saline brine that is emitted into the sea, which may be increased in temperature, contain residual chemicals from the pretreatment process, heavy metals from corrosion or intermittently used cleaning agents. The effluent from desalination plants is a multi-component waste, with multiple effects on water, sediment and marine organisms. It therefore affects the quality of the resource it depends on." []

    While desalination has certain significant positive points, it is not without its hurdles to be overcome.

    But that's not the point. More intelligent use of water would be more helpful. Don't water those gardens in the peak sunlight hours (oh yeah, I forgot, we're talking about London here! But still...). Use collected rainwater rather than mains water to do so. Whatever. Solutions can be found, short of rationing. It's amazing what can be done if people are just mindful of the fact that they've left the tap running while brushing their teeth, and other such everyday occurrences.

  73. 4ecks

    Maybe I'm a cynic.

    Why don't we build the desal plants next to the nice new shiney nuclear power stations that we started building 10 years ago to replace the nasty old dirty CO2 emitting fossil fuel stations that will soon be at their end-of-life status....

    Sorry, what did you just say? ....

    What do you mean, "We don't have the new nukes."

    So basically what you're telling me is that we had a bunch of complete fuckwits running the country for years who couldn't even play "Civilisation"?

    But then can you get a C&G or NVQ in actually running a country and not just an election campaign?

    Oh well, no point in fitting the electric shower, no power to not heat the no water. :(

  74. Mussie (Ed)
    Thumb Up

    I Vote

    I vote we take all teh Carbon Tax, Tree hugging, Smelly Hippy's out the back and shoot them

    Will Anyone else seccond this

    1. Alex King
      Thumb Up

      Re: I Vote

      Not sure if serious, but, if you are then I like you. You're an excellent example of the intellect level of greenie bashers.

  75. Vostor

    well all that heat wasted by coal burning power stations

    what most people forget is that the UK infrastructure water, power and gas are slowly becoming nothing more than a joke! but in the case of water desalination plants they require a massive amount of heat apart of the process as new power stations are being built i dont see why they dont use the wasted heat to basically bring water to 60-80 degrees cannot see why not..

    In the past we had back boilers for hot water and heating matrix's which used a coal fire to heat the water and from experience very efficiently..

    I think they saying goes stop wasting and start using!

    on a side note.. down with the 5p plastic and PAPER bag tax..

  76. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That Sounds Plain Wrong

    Firstly, reverse osmosis is *very* expensive to operate - this is why water companies stay away from it. If the existing plant you refer to were that cheap to use, then it would be getting used - not left standing most of the time. Energy costs are a significant cost in producing water - to the point where a great deal of effort is put in to managing the times at which such plant run, so that they use electricity when it is cheapest. Reverse osmosis requires a great deal of electricity.

    Secondly, if it were so cheap, then water companies would use it - they may have a captive audience, but they are regulated by OFWAT, and have *no choice* but to choose the most cost-effective options, otherwise they aren't granted funding. OFWAT have to agree what the water companies can charge, and what they are to do with that money - so it's not possible to go for the more expensive option 'just because'. Indeed, the water companes *want* to use the most cost-effective option, because they get no push-back from the regulator, and in turn are then able to lower customer prices, which improves their public perception.

    I get the impression you needed to write a story, but don't understand all the details - Most of what you said in that article made no sense, which is a shame, as normally articles on the Reg seem pretty spot on!


  77. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    I can't understand why people are talking about unusual and costly methods of adding storage to our water system, or, even worse, methods of 'saving water'.

    Low rainfall is NOT the primary cause of 'the drought', and this is accepted by the water regulators and DEFRA, who have told me as much. Rainfall has been low these last few years, but well within accepted variation.

    What HAS had a major impact is the lack of reservoirs in the SE. In 2000 the increased population obviously required increased infrastructure, and this was covered in the water companies 25-year plans in 2004. 5 new reservoirs and three extensions were proposed.

    ALL of these plans have been rejected at the planning stage by government inspectors, who claim that, if people could only use less water, the reservoirs would not be needed. The DEFRA 'Water Futures' plan (2008) states that per capita water usage will be cut from 150 Litres/day (this is a nominal figure, as it includes industrial and agricultural use) to 120 Litres/day. This is a 20% reduction.

    So it is government policy that we use 20% less water. There is no justification for this, and there has been no debate about it. What makes it all the more amazing is that water passes by us in a cycle, and even when we drink it it none of it is destroyed. So it is not a 'scarce commodity' in any way - we could store vast quantities of it if we wanted and the total amount of water on the planet would not change one bit. When we talk about a 'shortage of water' what we really mean is a 'shortage of infrastructure'. And when we talk about 'saving water' what we really mean is 'making do with an infrastructure which is not providing enough..."

    I have recently completed an economic analysis on the policy we currently have of requiring rainwater collection to be installed into commercial buildings. Gathering water, storing it as 'grey water' and providing a pumped dual pipe system to use it for flushing WCs is about 80 times more expensive than just letting the rain drop onto the ground, flow into a river and thence a reservoir, and then receiving it back again through the water mains.

    80 times! This is as stupid as selling off all our gold reserves at the bottom of the market. Why are people accepting this?

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