Monday, 13 July 2015

Water: Why We Must Not Be Complacent

Yesterday I wrote:

"We have not felt the effects of water scarcity here in Jersey, and continue to regard fresh water at the turn of a tap as something which, if we pay our water rates, will be readily available."

My correspondent James wrote:

"Not so. Two things:"

"- there are still people who do not have mains water - rather more than you'd think. Even H remembers when our house relied on a water tank topped up by Mr De La Haye. People in that circumstance tend to be more cautious about water usage, for fear of suddenly finding themselves without."

"- there are also people who live here who have had to come to terms with water scarcity outside Jersey. We are two: we lived through the 2007 flood in Gloucestershire which meant there was no mains water at all for a month for a third of a million people. "

I beg to differ.

Copying With Acute Shortages

While there was no mains water for a month in Gloucestershire, being part of England, other water supplies could be brought in, if not perhaps with ease, without too much logistical problem. As Jersey Water notes:

“We have limited underground reserves of water and no links to external water networks so we rely on the collection and storage of surface water for most of our mains supply”

In Gloucester, there were links to external water networks available.

The same cannot be said of an Island. If our supply is short, there is very little scope. In 2011 the island's reserves were so low the company looked into possibly importing water from Norway. The cost and logistics of that were not detailed; in fact, it may have only been a possible idea.

Cautious About Water
While a minority do not have mains water, it still remains relatively small compared with the total population of the Island. And I would imagine that even caution at home may not extend to caution at the office in St Helier, for example, where the knowledge will exist that there is more water available than at home. Do habits of rural home use transfer to an urban office environment? 

Jersey Water has good resources on its website, and excellent statistics on use, but more needs to be done by the States to educate the public.

Habitually though, droughts and restrictions to supply comes as a shock. Back in the 1980s, before Queen’s Valley was flooded, there would be restrictions on home supply, usually – much to grumbles from Islanders – just after the tourist season had ended.

There is a lag in water supply, and it was when rainfall in September failed to materialise that measures would be put in place. In offices, it was suggested that bricks be put in cisterns.

As a recent episode of Bergerac noted, the population increased hugely during the tourist season. That is no longer the case, but now the population has exceeded that level – on a permanently year round basis.

Water metering has been one answer, but if a major reservoir is out of action, it is bound to have an impact. This year Queen’s Valley Reservoir was been taken out of service in April after an algal bloom developed in the water supply. When Val de La Mare was out of action, the desalination plant was in use. It is however a stop gap, to ease problems, but it costs, and it is not a total solution: the island is not sustainable in water from the plant. Indeed, as mentioned, in 2011 the island's reserves were so low the company looked into possibly importing water from Norway.

John Falle, writing in the JEP that year, said:

“Jersey Water has just warned us that it is considering buying in water from Norway. It has also said that the desalination plant has been running at full capacity for some time. These are two very expensive sources of water. The reason for these contingencies is that Jersey’s water is down to about one third of its capacity due to the prolonged dry spell. Demand is outstripping supply by a considerable margin.”

And he asked this question, for which no answer is yet forthcoming, as it strikes at the heart of the immigration debate:

“What consideration, I wonder, does Planning give to the long-term water requirement of the many award winning development schemes proliferating all over the Island?”

This year, Jersey Water reported: The effects of the warm summer and additional customer connections meant that demand for water in 2014 was 0.5% higher than the previous year.

Note the “additional customer connections”. Each new application should state on average (based on past statistics) how much extra water it is likely to take from the water supply so we can build up a picture. Otherwise, we are likely to face strains to our water supply resilience.


James said...


You weren't there, so let me educate you:

The logistics of getting water into Gloucestershire (and please note the difference) were very far from simple. The whole of the mains network was polluted when the water treatment works flooded: that's why it took so long to get the water back.

In the absence of mains you need a network of bowsers to provide water for local communities. When the problem first started, Severn Trent Water provided precisely four bowsers to supply Cheltenham, population 100,000. These were not the sort of tanker you'd see attached to the back of an articulated trailer, but tanks of not much more than 1000 litres capacity, on a 2-wheeled trailer, such as you could tow around with a Land Rover. They ran dry very rapidly (and yes, we also had the antisocial brigade who decided to piss in the bowsers). Other areas had it worse: if you have any bright ideas on how to shift 1000-litre towable bowsers across flooded land (of which there was still a lot even at the end of the affair), Severn Trent would love to hear from you.

Severn Trent were caught between the proverbial rock and hard place: they didn't have their own stock of bowsers (carrying empty stock that you have no idea when you're going to use it costs, big-time), so they had to go grovelling to everyone else, and it rapidly became clear that they couldn't be used for drinking water. To provide that they had to call in the Army, who simply turned up with palletloads of bottled water (something you could easily bring to Jersey in the back of a Hercules).

So no: it was chaotic, it did take a long time to fix, and it did make people sit up and think for a while. More to the point, it would be possible to keep Jersey in drinking water if it needed it - but you'd have to put up with being dirty, like we did.

TonyTheProf said...

How many people were supplied by the army bringing in water? And for how long?

How much water could a Hercules bring in, and what would be the cost?

Have any emergency measures been planned by, for instance, Jersey Water and the Emergency Planning Officer?

How would it effect our tourism and finance industry?

These are questions which I think no one has addressed. In short, I think we live on the assumption that the water supply is resilient, which as the population grows, will be increasingly false.