Water, water, everywhere but enough to drink?

Credit: Flickr
Credit: Flickr

I know you’ve worked hard on your garden, but it looks as if a hosepipe ban is going to stop you watering the lawn and the flower beds very soon. So whose fault is that? “They ought to trust the County Council. This would be a better alternative than to leave this monopoly of a necessity of life in the hands of the companies”. Well, that was the opinion of the MP for Whitechapel in the House of Commons – in 1897 – and Samuel Montagu was also in favour of decimal coinage, and metric measurements before everybody else.

You should have some sympathy with Thames Water, who provide three quarters of us Londoners with the necessity of life. In 1896 the water companies were accused of being more interested in salaries and dividends than their customers. Ofwat, who supervise them today for the government, thought the same more recently. Thames Waterhas been fined a total of £32.4 million for a series of misdemeanours since 2017. Their dividends have swung wildly; a profit of £110 million in 2020-2021 and a loss of £97.8 million in 2019-2020.

It isn’t easy running a water company. Some of their pipes are 50 years old and the oldest is 150 years old. Of course in the past, there were cholera epidemics until they took the handle off the Broad Street pump in 1854. Even then 50,000 Londoners died of cholera in the 1860s, so at least you don’t have to worry about that nowadays. You do have to worry about water pollution, however, as Thames Water were found guilty of 11 offences. There were 400,000 such discharges in the country in 2021.

We actually got to sit in Parliament because of problems with water in 1858. Any number of bills to allow us to take the oath of allegiance on the Old Testament had failed until 1858.

In that year, however, the effluent from newly invented WCs had clashed with a very hot summer. The resulting smell in the Thames around the House of Commons was so nauseous that parliament seriously considered moving to Oxford. When the Jews Relief Act came up again, only  a small minority of  MPs turned up to vote and the bill passed.

Joseph Bazelgette was given the job of disposing of the sewage and ran a tunnel under the Embankment. It still does its job thanks to Bazelgette using a type of cement which hardens over the years.

With the population of London increasing, there will need to be additional reservoirs, but whether they will be delivered on time and within budget is highly questionable. There hasn’t been a new one for 30 years. What has been decided is that those who don’t keep to the hosepipe ban can be fined £1,000, but to make that effective, the authorities are appealing for neighbours to snitch on those next door who aren’t keeping to the rules. I have my doubts about whether that will do more than increase the number of neighbours who don’t like each other.

The latest news is a major flood in Islington because of a burst water main and one fifth of our water being lost to leaks every day. We probably need to call in the Dutch; they drained the Fens.

About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book