BRITAIN'S FIRST large scale desalination plant could be operating within a few years - just downstream from London.
The new facility is being planned by Thames Water at Beckton.
It is part of contingency plans to deal with growing water demand from an increasing population - and possible water shortages caused by global warming.
The plant would provide a relatively small part of Thames' overall needs - some 150M litres from an overall daily requirement of 2,500M litres.
'But it would serve to lop the top from peak demand in summer, ' said Thames Water's environment and quality manager Dr Peter Spillett.
'Without this kind of additional resource we could see London running out of water by 2020, ' he had earlier told the parliamentary select committee on Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (see page 26).
The committee is investigating the impact of global warming on water supplies.
Thames and other water companies are looking to build upstream reservoirs for longer term needs. But lead times are over 20 years, which means a supply shortfall in the interim.
The initial scheme would be a reverse osmosis plant rather than the heat distillation type used more often in desert states.
It would also be working with brackish estuarine water rather than salty seawater intake, meaning relatively less energy demand.