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Letters: Gauging the use of water is invaluable


Water counter isolated on white

Jim Wheeler (letters last week) inadvertently makes the usually overlooked key point in the water metering debate. The cost of a reliable and almost universal clean water supply, available night and day whether it is being used or not by any particular customer, is primarily in the pipework system.
So even if he didn’t use any water at all he would have to meet this cost if he wanted clean water to be available on demand all day and every day.

As to his 35l/day, this is less than impoverished African villagers use when they have to carry their water to their hut in a can. If his water meter isn’t faulty or his arithmetic incorrect - and it might well be - he must be away from home most of the time and using a lot of time, energy and personal resources saving water and electricity.

Most people implicitly value their own time and labour and the opportunity of leisure very much more highly than he does. If he or anyone else wants to look in depth at how water is actually used, not ‘consumed’, by households they could look up Paper 8082 published by this Institution as long ago as 1978. Since then we have got about 30% more demanding as we have got more affluent, but the broad pattern remains the same.

  • John Thackray (F),

Reading your article on the ICE’s State of the Nation report (NCE 14 June) I must point out that a great deal of the framework to which you refer was planned for the South East of England in the 1960s.

I am now one of the few engineers that can recall the publication by the Water Resources Board for Water Supplies in South East England (HMSO 1966) that my family and colleagues were associated with during our 25 years’ service with Mid-Northamptonshire Water Board (MNWB). These documents are still most probably the engineering solutions that would work today for the South East, including Northamptonshire.

I believe though that water companies are currently unlikely to agree to the engineered solutions in the 1960 document due to it requiring major solutions across many now private operating boundaries.

The ICE’s reference to the UK Water Security Task force “breaking down barriers” is therefore correct, urgently required and absolutely essential for the future of water supplies for the next 50 years. The purpose of the 1960 study was in essence a 50-year plan to ensure additional resources were made available from 2010 - no such evidence of that is in place and yet here we are in 2012 and still talking about what’s needed.

In the South East study 1964, there are a variety of solutions for Northamptonshire alone that had they been put in place would currently produce an additional 27Ml to 45Ml a day in the county alone.

I fully support the State of the Nation and let us all ensure that its momentum is maintained and produces actions as opposed to the current rhetoric and inane excuses we hear time after time - after all there are some 20M of the UK’s population in the South East alone who are relying on sound engineering decisions to maintain their water supplies for the future.

  • John Cooper (AMICE),

The ICE State of the Nation has it that we cannot move water around and proclaimed how we can use less of it.

On the former the report states that “transferring water over long distances through pipes is not feasible”.

That is nonsense. It may not be viable but it is entirely feasible; bulk fluid transfer by pipes is commonplace, its development by civil engineers a widespread activity. The longest systems measure in the thousands of miles.

On top of the engineering showstopper, the report also claims that there is an impediment created by “current regulation”. Does the panel not know that much of Birmingham’s water comes from Wales; SouthStaffs and Severn Trent share resources and treatment; or that both Bristol and Wessex Water and Thames and Northumbrian Water have sharing and/or transfer arrangements?

Then there is universal metering. The report’s panel will doubtless cite Holland, an exemplar of low per capita demand at 124l/h/d as the guide, no matter, for instance, that French demand, with a mature metered environment is around 151l/h/d.

Two benefits are claimed: that retrofitting of 14M or so meters, read every two years and serving customers paying by direct debit will incentivise them to use less water; and that metering, particularly with a rising block tariff, will create more equitable charging and punish wasters.

The basis of that is that the meter records use and that is fair. It is not. Even ignoring the asymmetric under-reading error of 4% across the industry, fairness is not demonstrated. Household sizes are not known so fair demand cannot be established nor rate changes ­positioned.

  • l B Walton (F Rtd)


Why toll the Mersey Gateway?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the ‘design’ of the Mersey Gateway Bridge, as proposed (letters 14 June).
There is however one aspect of the project that I consider unacceptable - and that is the fact that the new Mersey crossing will be a tolled route.

Not only will the new structure be tolled - but so will the existing, 50-year old Silver Jubilee Bridge (A533) crossing.

This fact, together with the tolled Mersey tunnels, will make the retail shopping centres of Liverpool One, South Liverpool, Widnes and perhaps even Warrington (Gemini) virtual no-go areas for the residents of Cheshire, North Wales and beyond.

Correct me if I am wrong but was it not the prime minister David Cameron speaking on behalf of the coalition government, who pledged that in the provision of essential infrastructure improvements, that no highway route that was presently un-tolled would become a tolled route as a result of such new provision in our struggling existing highway network.

If local public transport improvements in the form of better rail and bus services to Liverpool were to be provided, then the numbers of commuters using the existing Silver Jubilee Crossing might well become significantly reduced.

There is an existing rail-link from Frodsham to Runcorn (to connect with the Liverpool-London main line) but this is only used by a ‘ghost train’ service about once or twice a year to stave-off its complete closure. If this link alone were upgraded to provide better local rail services, then the case for the multi-million pound crossing might not be quite so robust.

This local solution seems to have been shunted to the sidings in the race to design and build the proposed new route/structure.

There may be little funds in the government’s kitty in these hardened economic times, but the motorist’s pocket is presumed to be just as deep as it ever was.

If and when the Mersey Crossing tolls do come into being, I fear businesses on either side of the Mersey at Runcorn will have a bit more belt-tightening to do than at present even.

  • Robert Owen, 6 Arran Drive, Frodsham, Cheshire

Bedfordshire’s super runway

Soon after the war I worked for Air Ministry as a resident engineer on two major runways. One was at Stansted and is still going strong.

The other, which was much bigger and even stronger was at Thurleigh, in Bedfordshire. The idea was to move all the facilities from Farnborough to a group of three wartime airfields, Twinwood, Thurleigh and Staughton with the research facilities at Twinwood and a super runway 8km long between Thurleigh and Staughton.

Some facilities were built at Twinwood and still exist and we got the runway to about 4km before the project was abandoned. The old roads across the runway were re-opened, and when I visited a few years back there was just a small research operation going on at one end, with the main part of the runway unused.

It seems a pity that this facility remains basically unused and I wonder if it could be developed as a freight terminal, thus relieving the pressure on Heathrow and the other London Airports.

  • David Mason, david.mason14@

Politicians are bad karma

With reference to you comment (NCE last week)mentioning possible impending U-turn on third runway and doubts on bold infrastructure plans, surely the position is quite simple. Now that the main opposer - Boris Johnson - is London mayor again, he is no longer a threat to David Cameron’s position and the government can now take him on now and transport secretary Justine Greening on at the same time.

If it does it shows how vulnerable infrastructure plans are to political whim even now in the new era of a raised profile of infrastructure planning.

  • Robert Brewerton,

Support for Tony Nicklinson and his family

The plight of the civil engineer and ICE member, Tony Nicklinson, who has “locked in syndrome” and is seeking the right to end his life, has made headline news this week. Who of us would change places with this courageous man?

His life, and that of his family, has been torn apart - something we have witnessed at first hand since we first started assisting them in 2006.

With the support from ICE members who donate to their Benevolent Fund, Tony and his family can be confident that we will continue to help them for as long as they need us. His wife says they “couldn’t manage without us”.

We are proud to help them, we hope our donors feel the same.

  • Kris Barnett, chief executive, Institution of Civil Engineers Benevolent Fund,

A municipal engineer speaks

I note the letter by Steve Burstow lamenting the lack of municipal engineers standing for elections to the ICE Council.

I am standing for elections to the ICE Council and I am a municipal engineer. I have been so for over 20 years, and my current role is for an Integrated Transport Authority (municipal engineering in other words).
However, I did not mention this specifically in my election statement, as there is a limit to the length of the statement. Apologies if this caused any misunderstanding.

  • Leyton Rahman,


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