As I look out the window at the overcast skies, I see grim figures wrapped up against the cold as they traipse through the adjacent car park that is wet with rain. The trees and grass that surround the building look a healthy, verdant shade of green. It’s 8C. The scene looks more like dreary Scunthorpe than the searing Serengeti. But it’s official: we are apparently in the middle of a drought.
As of yesteday water companies in the Thames, Southern, South East, Anglian, Sutton and East Surrey, Veolia Central and Veolia South East areas have imposed a hosepipe ban on their 20 million customers. Watering gardens, washing cars and filling swimming pools with a hose are verboeten and anyone breaking this curfew will be shot at dawn by a firing squad (or they can pay fines of up to £1000).
In between splashing passersby from his rooftop pool Martin Baggs, chief executive of Thames Water, said:
"Imposing restrictions on the use of hosepipes, although regrettable, is the most sensible and responsible next step in encouraging everyone to use less water so we can maintain supplies for as long as it stays dry, and reduce the risk of more serious restrictions later in the year."
Let me break this down for you. Thames Water once state run is now owned by an Australian investment bank. In 2010/2011 it lost 665 million liters A DAY in leaks (under its OFWAT target of 674 Ml/d, whoop-de-doo). Its operating profits in 2011 were over £600 million. As a result of “hitting his targets” Baggs took home bonuses worth £1.67million. Ker-ching!
We may have had a couple of dry summers but it has hardly been like Death Valley around here. The great unwashed would be a little more understanding on the need to cut back if costs hadn’t increased to inflation busting levels and if there wasn’t such an emphasis on profits over service. Would it be too much to ask that some of the £500million that was paid to the water companies' mainly foreign shareholders for the six months to September 2011 go on much needed repairs? All of these companies are foreign owned and have traded hands a few times since their privatisation in 1989. Instead of investing in infrastructure companies have concentrated on “a fair return on the investments made”. No consolation for you Petunias I should imagine.
Being a country surrounded by water where the stuff normally pisses out of the sky on a regular basis for a good 7 months of the year you would think it impossible to be left up Sh*t Creek without the need for paddle. Build extra reservoirs, improving distribution from water rich areas up north, creation of desalination plants and upgrading the Victorian network of pipes. None of these are “viable” as they eat into profits.
How can these water companies offer such a substandard service? Well, they are state sanctioned monopolies monitored by a toothless regulatory agency in OFWAT. They can do what the f*ck they like as you have nowhere else to go. That’s not strictly true. You could buy Evian and wash in the nearest swimming baths but for me this isn’t very convenient.
I lived in Spain for a while and never heard of a hose pipe ban in the Alicante area during all the time I was there. I would wager their rainfall was less then half that of the UK. I was in Texas last summer during one of their hottest and driest periods and people will still watering their lawns without threat of sanctions. Frankly, we are a joke.
That not to say we should take the p*ss. I predict water shortages are to become a depressing reality in an increasingly populated society that lives under the looming spectre of climate change. Personally, I think water meters should be obligatory. I have one and it is the only real way to encourage users to behave sensibly. Since having it put in I won’t leave taps and showers running unnecessarily.
Now the ban is in force no one is safe from a nation of curtain-twitchers keen to grass up the neighbours they don’t get on with. Luckily, I don’t have a garden.