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PLANS for a multi-million-pound plant in Hampshire to clean up sea water for household use have moved a step closer, the Daily Echo can reveal.
Southern Water has identified a site alongside Southampton Water for the desalination works that would help stave off the threat of shortages and droughts.
This week saw record September temperatures topping 30C (86F) in parts of the south, part of the warmest September for more than a century.
Now a new report says that the country and especially the south east needs to prepare for problems.
The report by Water UK, which represents all the UK’s water companies, looked at long-term resources and considered a number of scenarios – including the impact of climate change, population growth and environmental issues.
Jean Spencer, regulation director at Anglian Water, who chaired the project, said: “The threat of drought is already with us.
“Were it not for the unprecedented rainfall in the spring of 2012, we might have suffered significant problems with water supply that summer.”
The population of the south-east of England is set to increase markedly while steady rainfall declines, and there are few new sites available for the reservoirs that may be needed.
Southern Water is taking the prospect of drought seriously and to deal with this threat Southampton is set to become home to a multi-million pound desalination plant.
It is not known how many jobs it would bring to the region, but Southern Water hope the scheme will be built by 2028 and the likely site is an industrial park in Marchwood.
The plant, which creates drinking water from seawater, would be the first built by the water company.
The aim is to secure more reliable supplies for Hampshire and to support the transfer of water to the Isle of Wight through a cross-Solent pipeline.
The nearest desalination plant is in Beckton, east London, the first to be built in the UK.
The plant receives the brackish saltwater of the Thames Estuary, and stores it in a reservoir. The water is then treated and purified before being supplied to consumers.
It cost £250million and can produce 140-150 million litres of water per day, enough for one million people.
Thames Water says the number of people working at the site, opened in 2010, fluctuates but on a regular day to day basis it has eight full-time members of staff on site.
These positions vary between engineering and specialist scientific roles.
However the plant uses about twice as much energy as a conventional water treatment plant.
It runs on biodiesel sourced in the UK, including recycled fat and oil from London restaurants and households.
The key findings of the report are that the South East is especially at risk from longer more frequent droughts and failing to take action could have a significant impact on the economy.
The cost per day of a severe drought is estimated at £1.3billion per day.
The report say that water companies need to work together to adopt a consistent, national level of resilience.
Meyrick Gough, Southern Water’s water strategy manager, helped develop the sophisticated modelling techniques used in the report.
He said: “We were heavily involved in this important project and welcome its findings which clearly set out the case for increased resilience in water resources to meet future growth and protect the environment.
“We are the only water company to have based our current water resources management plan on the potential droughts of the future and we strongly believe that the water industry needs to act now – and work together – in order to protect our customers.
“An extra £4 per year, the cost of a lunchtime sandwich, will be enough to meet water resource needs for the future,” he added.
PICTURED: Thames Gateway desalination plant in Beckton
The report warns that if the country does not have a more effective solution to tackling droughts, hosepipe bans, limited availability of water and even standpipes, which provide running water in areas with no other water supply, could become a reality.
Southern Water says that while there is no “silver bullet” to fix this, steps are already being taken to try and minimise the impact of drought in the future, including:
A water desalination plant by 2028.
- Working with developers to offer incentives to introduce water-reuse methods into new homes.
- Introducing water metering across the region – which is already helping to save more than 27million litres per day.
- Tackling leakage. Southern Water has the lowest leakage levels in the industry. The company claims to have repaired 21,000 leaks last year.
- Working to find ways of transferring water from different areas of the country and different water providers in times of water shortage.
The last time customers in Hampshire experienced hosepipe ban was in the summer of 1976.
A Southern Water spokesman said: “Water levels in the area are currently very healthy and we do not foresee a drought in the near future.
“However, this report looks 50 years ahead across the whole of England and Wales.
“It says we may see longer, more frequent and more acute droughts in the future than previously thought and the south east region is in particular at risk.
“In Hampshire, we are soon to see changes to our existing ‘abstraction licence’ on the River Itchen, which supplies the majority of the water to customers in the south of the county.
This means during severe droughts we will no longer be able to abstract water from the river so we are developing a number of schemes to address this potential deficit.
This includes our metering programme to reduce demand, a transfer from Portsmouth Water and a new pipeline between the Testwood and Otterbourne treatment works.”
PICTURED: Southampton Docks
Across Southern Water’s region Kent, Sussex, Hants and IOW, the majority , 70 per cent, of the supply comes from groundwater, predominantly from the chalk aquifer which is widespread across the region, and a further 23 per cent comes from rivers and the remaining seven per cent from surface water reservoirs.
In Hampshire, the supply comes from groundwater and the Test and Itchen rivers.
Some of the New Forest is supplied by Bournemouth Water, which takes 85 per cent of its from the Avon and Stour rivers and 15 per cent from boreholes.
Unlike Southern Water, it is not considered a water stress area.
The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has criticised large scale desalination plants.
Phillip Mills, chairman of the water panel at the ICE, said: “They are very expensive and use a lot of energy.
“Thames Water’s one uses renewable energy. There is an argument for them on a small scale.
“It would be better to capture more water in the winter and provide more storage for it.
“If you take too much out of rivers it has an impact on the environment and wildlife.”
An Environment Agency spokesman added: “Much of the current public water supply system relies on important local or regional water transfer schemes; whether as part of water companies’ own systems or schemes that we own and operate.
“However, previous studies by ourselves and the water companies have suggested that building a national grid could cost several times more than solutions that are a mix of managing demands and using local transfers and supplies.
“Without new resources or measures to encourage people to use less water drought risk will increase.
“This is because of the climate change, an increasing population and in some cases, because we need to take less water from the environment to protect the ecology of our rivers.”