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Don't rule out a national water grid, warn UK engineers

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NATIONAL WATER transfer schemes must be taken seriously by government in planning the UK's future water strategy, engineers warned this week.

This strategy would be better led by a new independent national water body, they added.

'We are not necessarily saying go and build a new water grid, but we think that the previous studies from the 1990s should be re-examined and resources planned for in the most costeffective way, looking at an updated range of demand scenarios, ' said ICE Water Board chairman John Lawson.

'We definitely need new resources, but it is difficult to judge what these are in the absence of a clear strategic view, ' said Black & Veatch regional director Chris Scott.

Lawson has already warned of a worrying lack of leadership from the Government on new water resource planning (NCE 11 May).

This week a senior consultant agreed. 'None of the water companies have any interest in a strategic water grid, which is why we need a national water authority to look at the issues independently, ' he said.

Water companies draw up 25 year resource plans that are monitored by the Environment Agency and water regulator Ofwat. These are limited to examining resource issues in their region.

The last time large-scale transfer of water resources was considered was in 1994 by the National Rivers Authority, now the Environment Agency.

NCE asked engineers to update the costs of this study and the results show that national water transfer schemes may be more cost-effective than reservoir construction (see table).

The Environment Agency said that it is working on a study to determine how national water resources should be developed.

'We're advocating looking at local and regional resource developments, and sharing of resources, rather than the national scale engineering solutions of a grid, ' said head of water resources Ian Barker.

'Our national strategy for water resources identifies the need for new resource developments, but not on the scale of a national grid.

'We believe that other measures, such as demand management and metering, have a big role to play in the twin-track approach, ' he said.

Earlier this month a House of Lords select committee said that both Ofwat and the Environment Agency need to take a 'realistic approach to developing new resources'.

The report also states that 'responsibility for water management is dispersed and unclear. We need clearer lines of responsibility, greater accountability and more effective funding procedures.'

Ian Barker and Chris Scott were both due to speak at the NCE Sustainable Water Resources conference yesterday. Full report next week.

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