London facing water crisis, warns new report

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A TV interview is conducted following Upton-upon-Severn flood in 2007 (Photo credit: Iain Cuthbertson – Flickr)

London is facing a water crisis, according to a new report from Labour’s London Assembly Environment Spokesperson, Leonie Cooper (Assembly Member for Merton and Wandsworth). The report – “Running out or Flooded out?” – warns that London’s changing climate, loss of green space, growing population, and aging water pipes, are putting the capital at an increased risk of flooding and drought. It also claims to expose the failure of London’s water suppliers to tackle leaks, revealing that the capital has seen 26,000 incidents of burst pipes in just over four years. Ms Cooper urged the Mayor of London to use his influence to encourage water companies to “up their game” and crack down on leaks.

Data acquired by Leonie Cooper AM from London’s two biggest water suppliers – Thames Water and Affinity Water – shows that there were 26,082 burst pipes in London between 2015 and the end of February 2019. According to Ms Cooper’s report, the capital’s changing, and increasingly extreme, climate has put London’s water supply under pressure in recent years, with aging pipes unable to cope. Floods across south London in early 2018 were the result of extreme freeze-thaw weather during the ‘Beast from the East’, with widespread flooding and water outages.

In her report, Cooper urges the Mayor of London to put pressure on water companies to protect and invest in London’s water supply, including through the replacement of aging pipes, to halve the number of leaks by 2050. National Audit Office (NAO) data shows that household water and sewerage bills in England have risen by 40% since privatisation in 1989. Yet investment in water supply infrastructure was lower in 2018 than in 1990.

Following warnings from the Environment Agency that the South East of England could run out of water in the next 25 years, Leonie Cooper AM also urged the Mayor to raise awareness amongst Londoners about what they can do to save water. Londoners are estimated to use on average 149 litres of water per person per day, this is 5% higher than the national average. Ms Cooper’s report calls on Sadiq Khan to run a campaign to encourage the take up of water meters which have been shown to reduce usage by 30-40 litres per family per day.

Thames Water has warned that a severe drought could cost London’s economy £330million per day. With the threat of drought increasing, Ms Cooper says construction of the proposed reservoir at Abingdon, Oxfordshire, which would create extra storage for millions of litres of water for London, must be accelerated to 2035 – two years sooner than planned.

The report also warns that London’s growing population is putting pressure onto the capital’s sewerage system, causing pollution to be leaked into the River Thames and burst pipes. It also points to the loss of green space, with water unable to escape impermeable surfaces contributing to flooding, which is now considered one of the biggest risks to London’s resilience.

Cooper said: “Water is essential for people to function, and it is essential for our city to function.

“Given we sit right on top of the River Thames and that England is known globally for its rain, it’s easy to make the mistake of believing we have an endless water supply – but the opposite is true.

“With London under the looming threat of both flooding and drought, we simply cannot afford to wait before taking action to protect our water supply.

“Whilst the Mayor has no real legal powers in relation to water resources, he can use his influence to ensure water companies protect and invest in vital infrastructure. With the rate at which we’re seeing leaks across London, it’s clear suppliers need to up their game.

“As Londoners, we can also help by paying closer attention to the amount of water we’re using and trying to cut back wherever possible.”