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Thames Water boss reignites Abingdon debate

Thames Water boss Martin Baggs last week put plans for a mega-reservoir in Abingdon back on the agenda by calling on government to use the water bill, currently in draft form, to tackle long-term water supply needs.

Baggs said the bill must be seized on as a way to get vital water infrastructure built, such as Thames’ proposed Upper Thames Reservoir in Abingdon.

“You don’t often get the chance to legislate on water so let’s get it right,” he said, speaking at the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management annual conference.

“The future climate will be very different to the current one,” he said. “We need to look further into the future. We need an overarching plan for water.”

Baggs said that the financial impact on UK economy from water shortages would be severe.

“Rivers that last year were dry have this year burst their banks. Water is becoming more erratic,” he said. “Three dry years would lead to emergency restrictions,” said Baggs. “And a month of that in London would cost £7bn.

“The cost of a reservoir is £1bn. Why isn’t this on someone’s risk register? Why isn’t there a plan to deal with it?” he asked.

Thames Water had included proposals for the 100Mm3 reservoir in its Water Resources Management Plan for 2010 to 2035, and in 2011 took the proposal to a public inquiry. However senior planning inspector Wendy Burden rejected the proposal, instead recommending that Thames develop a smaller 50Mm3 reservoir on the site (NCE 11 May 2011).

The inquiry hinged on Thames Water’s projection of very high potential future water demand in London and the Swindon and Oxfordshire region. But Burden questioned the reliability of the forecasts.

Baggs told the conference that water resource planning was flawed because of its reliance on historical records, which are becoming less relevant in the face of a changing climate.                               

“The problem with water resource planning is that it is based on recorded history. There were worse droughts prior to records beginning. We are going to see more dry periods in the future,” he said.

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