Dead Men Left

Monday, July 18, 2005

London is drowning (and I live by the river)

How far can this be attributed to privatisation?

Two of the largest water companies were accused yesterday of wasting "unacceptable" amounts of water through leaking pipes.

With much of the country poised to face a summer of water rationing, Thames Water in the South East and United Utilities in the North West both missed their targets on cutting leakage.

Between them, the companies lose more than 1,400 million litres a day through their pipes. A third company, Cambridge Water, also narrowly missed the target set by the regulator Ofwat.

Ofwat itself says that (PDF, p.24):
After privatisation, better data from the companies revealed a rising trend in leakage that reached a peak in the drought year of 1995.

What they don't tell us, presumably with good reason, is by just how much the six years from privatisation to the mid-1990s drought contributed to the "rising trend in leakage". Left to their own devices, the water companies were more than happy to neglect infrastructure and repairs. Thames Water, after receiving the marvellous gift of supplying (damp, pipeline-rich, demand-heavy) London with water at minimal (subsidised) cost, is now having to make up for its years of running an apparently low-maintenance licence to print money:

Thames Water has the worst leakage level out of all the water and sewerage companies, losing just over one billion litres a day. Since 1992/93 [to 1996/97, ie after the drought forced regulators to act] the amount of water wasted through leaks has increased by nearly 35%.

Domestic water bills increased by exactly the same percentage over the same period. Coincidence, of course.