Thursday, 19 July 2018

Drought and Jersey Water

Helier Smith, chief executive of Jersey Water

BBC news reported this story:

There is an "absolute drought" in Jersey after 15 days of no "measurable rainfall", according to meteorologists. Jersey Met Office said the last measurable rainfall - more than 1mm - in the largest Channel Island was on 2 July when 2.8mm of rain was recorded.

The dry spell is due to end on Thursday with thundery showers forecast. This is the 125th time the island has been in an absolute drought since records began in 1894 with the longest period lasting 39 days in 1976.

A Jersey Water spokesman said a hosepipe ban was unlikely as reservoirs were 83% full, with enough water to last three months. 

The Island is certainly in a better position that it was several years ago in the history book about Jersey Water, which mentioned that the population had actually exceeded the water supply in any prolonged drought.

The reasons can be read in their 2017 Annual Report and Accounts, which is very informative:

Operationally, 2017 was a successful year. We saw consumption of water fall by 3.2%, principally due to a reduction in leakage of approximately 14% on the prior year.

In 2017, we invested a total of £3,275k (2016: £4,589k) in our capital expenditure programme which included laying 2.1km of replacement mains, installing 1.9km of new mains extensions, investing £475k in water quality improvement and resource initiatives and adding 303 connections to the network.

We continue to invest in our infrastructure and 2018 will see the development of a live distribution network model that will, over time, enable the use of technology to manage leakage, pressures and water quality throughout our 580km of pipework.

So we can see from the above that the Company adopts a number of pro-active strategies to reduce the demand for water including Island-wide metering, pressure reduction, leakage control and mains renewals.

Metering makes people think twice about consuming water for watering gardens or washing cars too often.

And the £6.6 million upgrade of the desalination plant has meant that it has increased the capacity of the plant from 6.4Ml/day to 10.8Ml/day and improving the energy efficiency by 36%. It is still expensive to run, but can now produce more water at less expense. That is now approximately half of daily demand.

We all complain about the roads dug up, but old pipework can decay and is more prone to leakages. There is a complex network carrying the water supply around the Island and the renewal of mains involves the replacement of old, end of life, unlined cast iron or galvanised iron pipework, and related service connections where appropriate

As an example, 835 metres of main along Rue de La Baie in St Brelade’s bay was replaced last year - the original dating back to 1900! There was also the replacement of 303 metres of pipe laid in 1903 feeding Seaton Place and the renewal of 138 metres of main feeding Old Road Gorey (originally laid in 1959).

A Public Utility for the Public

One of the reasons for the success of the company is the States of Jersey majority shareholder having 83.33% of voting rights. As we have seen in the UK, where private companies run the water networks, the shareholders – and returns to shareholders – can often be prioritised at the expense of the consumer.

As the Guardian reported in May 2017:

“Fears of a drought are rising after an exceptionally dry spell and water companies are asking customers to save water, but the vast amount of water that leaks from company pipes every day has not fallen for at least four years.”

“Furthermore, many companies in the parched south and east of England have been set leak reduction targets for 2020 of zero or even targets that could allow leakages to increase. Critics blame a system where it is “cheaper to drain a river dry than fix a leak” and say it is unfair to place the water saving burden on customers while 20% of all water leaks out before it even reaches homes.”

Against that while Jersey Water has to make a profit and pay dividends to shareholders, it also can used a goodly amount of those profits to reinvest for the long term, something UK Water Companies are singularly poor at doing. Leaks have been reduced across England and Wales by only 5% over the past 13 years.

As the report states:

“We are a long term business. To be successful we must maintain our performance over generations. This means not taking short cuts, making the appropriate long term investment decisions and maintaining our assets to a high standard.”

Not only is the company investing in replacing ancient mains, they are also bringing in new technology for detecting leaks more efficiently.

In 2017, the Company commissioned the development of a live distribution network management system. The system will allow the distribution network to be monitored in real time to allow operatives to understand pressures, flows, the age of water in the mains and numerous other parameters. The system will facilitate the modelling of effects of changes to the network on water quality, pressure and quality of service. The system will be developed in phases over the coming years to add functionality in stages.

In conclusion, we have a first class Water company.

And of the future...

We should not be complacent – although the desalination plant has increased daily capacity, there is still only a limited amount of water available.

Climate change suggests weather patterns where there are periods of prolonged rainfall and periods of prolonged drought. Chemicals can suddenly put reservoirs temporarily out of action. Val de la Mare was Val de la Mare was closed for five months in 2016. All of these can restrict water capacity.

And as the population grows, the demand for water also grows., putting yet more pressure on the infrastructure, which is something often overlooked in discussions on net inward migration.

But Jersey Water are actively planning for the long term, and our future water supplies, I am inclined to believe, are in safe hands.

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