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Letters: More storage key to water supply

You ask “Where will the water come from?” (NCE 8 March). The answer is: from the same place as always - winter.

In normal summers all rain and much of the soil moisture is evaporated by plants. So summer rain grows our food and keeps England green, but it provides no “blue” water for people or rivers. That all comes in winter (when evaporation relents) and our society depends on storing winter water for summer use.

There is normally plenty to store; domestic use is around 160l/person/day, but Environment Agency figures show that in England & Wales as a whole, nature gives us on average 3,600l/person/day. In dry Anglia it’s 1,900l. What kind of shortage is that?

But of course you need storage, and more people need more storage. There is little or no more groundwater to spare, so more storage means reservoirs, and they have to be big enough to cover extended droughts like the current one.

The south and east have not seen a new major reservoir since the early 1970s. With a 20-year gestation period, that will be a 60-year gap. How long are we going to pretend that you can supply more and more people with the same inadequate storage without losing reliability?

  • David Evans (M), water resource consultant, Mulberry House, 59 Bromwich Road, Worcester WR2 4AD

Given the drought situation in the south east of England it is bizarre that water charges in this region are among the lowest in the country.

For example the volumetric charge to consumers with a water meter in the water scarce Thames Water region is £1.22/m3 compared with say £1.53/m3 in the United Utilities (north west) region where water is more abundant. Water charges first need to better reflect the availability and value of water resources before we embark on expensive inter-regional water transfer schemes.

It seems that significantly higher charges should be levied for abstraction of water resources in the drier regions of the country.

  • Tim Kingham (M), tim@timkingham.co.uk

I have no experience in the water industry, but there seems to be something fundamentally irrational about the way our water systems operate. We extract raw water from rivers or boreholes, store it in large reservoirs on very valuable land, purify it expensively to potable standards, and send it down leaky pipes from which we lose much of it, before delivering it to its destination. There, we use most of it for flushing toilets, and buy drinking water in bottles from the supermarket.

Meanwhile, we complain about the weather, which, in my case, dumps around 40m3 of fresh rain on my roof every year, and periodically causes huge flooding problems.

My granny’s house, probably built around 1860, had a hand-pump connected to a tank under the house somewhere, presumably filled from the roof downpipes. 150 years later we still have no statutory obligation to provide onsite water storage nor grey water recycling.

Instead we bleat about a water crisis, yet continue to supply water at less than 40p/person/day.

Are our organisational structures so entrenched in their silo mentalities, and so defensive of their limited vested interests, that some engineering logic cannot be applied?

  • Peter Thompson (M), 85 Lonsdale Road, Oxford OX2 7ET

It is obvious that we live in an island with a sufficiency of rain water, but the distribution of supplies does not match the distribution of usage.

Water is a fundamental requirement for life as we know it. This is what government should be about - ensuring at a national level that in the long term supplies of one of the essentials of life are available to all.

The proposal for a pipeline along the High Speed 2 route seems eminently sensible. Yes, water is a heavy, incompressible liquid and would need pumping, but if the need is there, and there seems little doubt that there will be a long-term problem, then the cost is immaterial.

With a trunk water main system, there should be enough for all for the foreseeable future. Users would have to pay appropriately and metering would ensure they do so fairly with a clear incentive not to waste a valuable resource.

Metering is only a use reduction tool, it is not a permanent solution. Do we really want to end up rationing supply?

  • Peter Davison (M)11 Sandhurst Drive, Ruddington, Nottingham NG11 6HY


Airport lessons from Asia

I recently came across your article on the new airport in the Thames Estuary. Some time ago when I was the business development director at Amec I worked on the concept of super modules for airports built on reclaimed land.

This study was done for Chep Lap Kok in Hong Kong and some of these ideas from the oil and gas industry were adapted in the final construction by modularising the design of the baggage handling and roof structure and pre-assembling the roof structure reducing the overall time for construction and cost.

I then took this work and applied it to a similar airport to be developed in Chubu, Japan. This concept was to produce the concourse in super module 4,000t units fully complete and built in a covered shipyard facility nearby.

The benefits were that the building work could be done in parallel to the reclamation and then transported by barge to site once the reclamation had settled and the resultant savings on time was around two to three years, which has a significant financing impact if this were to be developed in a commercial environment.

Food for thought perhaps? Has it been considered?

  • Stephen Prendegast, strategy consultant, stephen.prendergast@amey.co.uk


Put hub airport in the Midlands, not south east

You state that transport secretary Justine Greening must “rapidly throw her weight unambiguously behind the creation of a new hub airport and deliver it in the short term” (NCE Comment last week).
Why must this new hub airport be located in the south east?
Many people from areas of the UK outside the south east use Heathrow, or even Gatwick, for intercontinental travel because there are a limited number of destinations outside Europe from our regional airports.
The solution is to make either Manchester or Birmingham airport a second UK hub airport. These airports are much closer to the rest of Britain - only people based in London could think that east Kent is a suitable location for a UK hub airport.
It is suggested that regional travellers could use high speed rail to reach an east Kent hub airport.
The main problem with a rail-air journey is that most intercontinental travellers need hold luggage which they would have to carry until they reached the new London Airport.
Britain needs a Birmingham or Manchester hub airport to serve the large majority of British people who live outside the south east to reduce demand at Heathrow.

  • Mike Hodgkinson (F), mike.hodgkinson1@gmail.com


Construction is safer than flying

The article on safety (NCE 1 March) states that around 10 deaths occur per million man-hours flown in the aviation industry, and that “by comparison” the construction industry killed 50 people in 2010.

I’m not sure that this is a particularly useful comparison, since one figure is measured in “deaths per million man-hours”, and the other is measured in “deaths per year”.

Based on figures provided by the Health and Safety Executive(50 deaths in 2010/2011, with a rate of 2.4 deaths per 100,000 workers) and assuming 1,720 working hours per year, I estimate that in the construction industry thecomparable rate is 0.014 deaths per million man-hours.

This would make the construction industry around 700 times safer than the aviation industry.

  • Richard Hein (M), Bristol, richard@rnhgroup.com


Curse of human resources

Well done Jonathan Meredith (Letters last week). You are absolutely right to point out that in these days of high unemployment with few vacancies the professional world has lost all courtesy and manners.

Gone are the days when you applied for a position in a company and were interviewed by the boss or the director of the division that you applied for and you were judged on your academic achievements, experience, and interpersonal skills.

Now you get farmed off to human resources (HR) who put you through psychometric tests and judge you on your ability to answer obscure questions to determine as to whether you are a serial killer or a failure.

The problem lies within HR who, through stealth, have carved out a niche in the professional world hoodwinking the professionals into accepting that they are best placed to determine who should be considered for a position.

They should be put at the bottom of the heap under the second hand car salesmen, estate agents and cowboy builders and shown up for what they are.

  • Mario Donnetti (F), mario_donnetti@yahoo.com

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