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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Water and Wealth

Having grown up the Lancashire Valleys where some of the first cotton mills were established, and more recently resident in the part of Derbyshire where Arkwright established the factory system, I have always been incensed by the oft-repeated intellectual nonsense that the emergence of industry using water power was benefited by the 'fast-flowing streams' of the Peak District and the Pennines. A twenty-minute visit to any surviving water-mill shows that the waterwheel requires only a slow, steady, controlled flow of water; which is optimally supplied from a lodge [or reservoir] in which enough water for a several days operation can be stored. Most of the time in the UK, the river or stream from which the water is drawn into the lodge has sufficient flow of water to top up the lodge constantly: the usefulness of the lodge to keep the mill going in a drought depends on how many days' requirement for powering the mill can be held in the lodge.

Almost all of Britain has enough rain through most of each year for most streams and rivers to keep going; but droughts do occur. The most recent spectacular drought was in 1976, but more recently the south of England [particularly, the south-east] has seen the need for periodic controls on water supply after a series of relatively dry winters. It has been axiomatic that if enough rain falls during the winter to top-up the aquifers - the strata of rock that hold water, which can be accessed from boreholes - water companies and major users only need to build reservoirs big enough to top up the supply during a drought. However, new reports suggest that the impact of climate change is already meaning - as seen in the last year - that while northern Britain will be milder [with fewer days of severe frost annually] it will also become wetter; while the south, and especially the south-east, is becoming dryer and warmer. The result is that a deficit in water supply is becoming imminent. Thames Water has plans to build a mega-reservoir, and has already opened a desalination plant for estuary water from the River Thames.

It seems obvious to pipe water from the north, where there is an excess, to the drought-prone south: but water is heavy and Britain [even in the south] is hilly; so massive energy costs have to be incurred to transport water long distances. At the turn of the nineteenth century, water for Manchester was piped from the Lake District; that was a gentle downhill conduit, so minimum pumping-power needed to be called upon. The same went for transporting water from North Wales to Merseyside and from Mid-Wales to Birmingham. But the logistical and political issues that would arise from any extension of those plans would probably be insurmountable; they would not meet the technical requirements to get water to south-east England, and the cost would be excessive for a progressively-impoverished country.

With typical purblind political arrogance, the issue has been ignored. It will have to be recognised soon. Then the question of ways and means will present itself, and the horrendous situation will become clear. As in all other areas of infrastructure, there has been too little investment, and Britain has progressively become a poorer country. This blog has often stressed the fact that Britain is presented as being the 'fifth-largest economy in the world' by totting up transactions including imported goods and borrowing. In terms of national income per head the UK is declining towards the TWENTIETH place in the 'league table'; below Finland and Austria. The neglect of infrastructure investment will accelerate the downward spiral. No major party has stressed this as an  issue in the current election; another reason why thinking people should use their ballot forms as a means of showing their contempt for the whole of the political class.

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