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Ofwat spending limits hamper flood control, say water firms

WATER COMPANIES this week warned they will be powerless to stop repeats of this month's flooding until the end of the decade because of spending constraints imposed by the water regulator.

Ofwat has refused to allow more spending on storm water drain enlargement and holding reservoirs until 2004, when it will set new spending limits for water companies.

All 10 privatised water utilities this week told NCE they were concerned that current spending limits failed to account for the increasingly extreme weather affecting Britain.

Last weekend, firefighters had to pump water around the centre of Chichester to prevent flooding. Large parts of Britain remained on flood alert as heavy rain once again swept across the country.

Severn Trent plans to present Ofwat with Meteorological Office evidence demonstrating that recent heavy rains are part of a long term climate trend.

Initial Met Office findings indicate that the Severn Trent region now suffers from increasingly regular patterns of 'localised, intense storms'.

Ofwat said that climate change was an 'issue of uncertainty', even though junior agriculture minister Elliot Morley told Parliament last week that 'there is certainly no dispute that the planet is warming nor that we are seeing changes in weather patterns.'

Southern Water has identified 100 sewers that have regularly overflowed into residential areas and claims recent spending on storm water tunnels in Hastings has successfully prevented serious flooding.

But the company said customers in other areas would still face flooding risks until new spending was authorised.

'We want to kick off the schemes now but we haven't got the money for it, ' said a Southern Water spokesman.

Instead most of the company's capital investment cash is earmarked to ensure European bathing water and urban wastewater regulations are met.

'We have been asking ourselves - is the priority in the last Periodic Review towards the natural environment wrong?' he said. 'Should we instead be moving some of the priority towards the human environment to protect people's houses?'

Gareth Jones, director of environment and quality at Wessex Water said: 'Ofwat needs to seek a wider counsel on the impact of weather patterns on this industry.'

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