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Letters: We cannot afford to ignore the UK’s water issues

We cannot afford to ignore the UK’s water issues

Jo Stimpson raises an important point on the topic of resilience to natural hazards (NCE 17 March).

A number of multi-agency groupings are looking at the issue of heatwaves, among other natural hazards, the most prominent being local and regional resilience forums and regional climate change partnerships.

Incorporation of climate change risk assessments and adaptation solutions into infrastructure design is well-established. The profile of climate change adaptation has been raised through competitions such as the Technology Strategy Board “Design for Future Climate” competition, through activities by the cross-Government Adapting to Climate Change programme and through the work of a multitude of bodies.

Work on strategic resilience to natural hazards has, perhaps understandably predominantly focused on flooding. There have been a number of reviews on this subject including CIRIA publication C688 Flood resilience and resistance for critical infrastructure, the ICE State of the Nation report “Defending Critical Infrastructure” and the recent Engineering the Future report “Infrastructure, Engineering and Climate Change Adaptation”.

I agree that more focus ought to be given to overheating. In March of last year the NHS published a Heatwave Plan for England, but I doubt whether this hazard is high on the list of priorities for local resilience forums or local authorities who have just been given new duties under the Flood & Water Management Act and are facing significant cuts to their budgets.

I would suggest that this issue ought to be a key one highlighted to the current Cabinet Office consultation “Keeping the Country Running: Natural Hazards and Infrastructure”.

  • Ben Kidd, project manager, CIRIA, Classic House, 174-180 Old Street, London EC1V 9BP

Your article on heatwaves (NCE 17th March) suggests that they are not being taken seriously because “people are unused to considering them”.

Probably so, but heatwaves are not the biggest climate change threat we are ignoring for that reason.

Eastern England’s summer water balance is already near the edge. Warmer summers, heatwave or not, mean more evaporation. And more evaporation, combined with the lower summer rainfall will take us past that edge and cause summer desiccation beyond anything we are used to.

Summer desiccation is little threat to water supplies, because they come from winter rain. But summer water, scarce already, will become much scarcer. Parched soils will threaten our food and our green environment. Farm crops can be irrigated, but the simplest of calculations shows the potential scale will be beyond the scope of farm reservoirs.

These are serious issues, needing consideration and an integrated response by farming, conservation and water management interests. We will need both more crop per drop and more drops for the crops. Plus realism as to what environment will be supported by tomorrow’s climate − Mediterranaen scrub perhaps?

  • David Evans OBE (M), water resource consultant, 59 Bromwich Rd WR2 4AD

EfW is no waste of time

Declan Lynch’s article (NCE 24 March) referred to a rethink over the role of nuclear and went on to discuss gas, oil, coal, two kinds of tidal power, plus wind and anaerobic digestion.

All have difficulties with their carbon footprint, capital cost, the availability of the current technology or their remoteness from the national grid.

But there is an alternative which has no major shortcoming, and one which solves another environmental problem at the same time. Energy from waste (EfW) plants can be built close to the source of fuel and are easy to connect to the grid. Proven technology to control their emissions has been in use for over twenty years and, as they avoid the need for landfill, they are effectively carbon neutral.

The only problem appears to be government’s reluctance to overcome the objections of the nimbys who appear whenever a plant is proposed in their locality. EfW plants can be built at a fraction of the cost of the alternatives and have little adverse effect on the environment compared with other sources of energy but hardly feature in the national energy strategy. Time for a rethink? Absolutely!

  • Peter Styles, Kingsbury, Warwickshire,

Don’t make our waste profitable

I was dismayed to read of the proposal to use surplus food waste as the feedstock for a series of new energy bio-reactors.

It has been estimated that some 30% of household food purchase is ultimately wasted and while the equivalent figure for producer/wholesaler waste is more difficult to determine it is likely to be similar figure.

Coupled with this, a recent WRAP report states household food waste alone absorbs 6% of national potable water production. The figure for losses earlier in the food production chain are probably similar.

At a time of national food poverty as well as global food imbalance, we should be concentrating on preventing this waste, not building a new energy industry on the unnecessary consumption of two already scarce resources.

  • Malcolm Nunn (F),

Nuclear needs new engineers

May I counter the suggestion made by your correspondent that university courses in nuclear engineering should be stopped.

Nuclear power stations are not hydrogen bombs waiting to explode at a touch. Experience over the years of accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and even Fukushima have shown that the ill effects, harmful as they may be, are minute compared to the effects of natural disasters.

If we want electrical power to serve our every day needs it must be generated. Fossil fuels are finite; wind, wave and solar sources have yet to be proven adequate by themselves.

Nuclear energy has shown itself capable of providing a self contained and reliable source of power which has been further developed since Fukushima was designed many years ago.

What better way is there to produce safer and more productive designs than by training more young engineers in the subject?

  • Geoffrey Williams (F), Close Farm, Crockham Hill, Edenbridge, Kent TN8 6TE

There are many HS2 alternatives

Roger Bastin (Letters 17 March) queries what alternatives there are to a high speed rail link to Birmingham.

The first is to provide easy video conferencing facilities nationwide - this could in the near future reduce the need for many business people to have to move around the country. Thus their travel time would not be reduced, but deleted.

For those who do have to visit another city, I query how recently anybody has costed the raising of all bridges over this section of line, including the boring of new tunnels where necessary, so that double decker trains could run on this route, as found in Europe and Australia?

If found to be practical then this would not only drastically increase the number of persons who could travel on this stretch of line− but all the existing branch line connections could remain connected, which will not be the case with High Speed Two.

  • Ewan Cappitt,

Letters to the editor

NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

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