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Natural Resources of Wales - Water - Simon P. Hobson

With the Yes Cymru campaign petition for Welsh natural resources to be controlled by the people of Wales gathering momentum, the time seemed ripe to highlight the abundance of these resources on which an Independent Wales could call.  

As any school child will tell you, water is that most strange of substances, including a high surface tension, an ability to dissolve more things than any other common liquid, and a solid state (Ice) that floats.  These strange properties come from water’s simple structure[1], H2O.  But of course, its crucial quality is in keeping alive you and I, and the livestock and crops on which our civilization relies.  Asides from this most basic of use, water is essential in the day-to-day functioning of homes and industry.  It is then, time that the Senedd – the people of Wales - rather than Westminster backed private companies controlled this precious resource.  Water companies that have, since the 1989 water privatisation, paid out £72 billion to shareholders - £2 billion a year on average – while amassing debt of £53 billion[2].

Asides from the dripping away from Wales of this revenue, there is also an ecological imperative for Wales to have control of its own resource destiny.  Not least for the country to prepare for the likely droughts of future years.  This cannot be achieved in any meaningful way when England has its hands on the tap of Welsh water.  And, while Natural Resources Wales shoulders the responsibility for maintaining the upkeep and safety of Wales’ key lakes, reservoirs[3],[4] and major river sources of extraction such as the Dee, it has no legal right to sell that all important resource.  Meaning that England, which already takes up to 300 billion litres of Welsh water per annum[5] is planning to siphon off, in a measure to appease English residents against the construction of new water storage facilities in their region, an additional 500 million litres a day for the use of London and South East England[6],

The Environment Agency of England has published its ‘National Framework for Water Resources’[7].  This 2020 document calls for the “understanding of regional needs”[8].  As the Agency is a body setup to serve England these regions are those of England, only in a footnote[9] does the report give a nod to the fact much of this future water resource planning for England is dependent on that lifegiving substance being extracted from Wales. 

In many other similarly sized European nations to Wales, the management and right to sovereignty over their natural resources, particularly water, is seen as a non-negotiable.  Like Wales, Slovenia is a water rich country, endowed with many rivers and abundant aquifers.  It though ensures that only 3% of its water is held by private concessions[10], the majority being administered through regional and municipal utilities.  In the Baltic nations, water resource independence has allowed, in the case Lithuania, most similar in terms of population as to Wales[11], the water industry to generate greater than £192 million each year, with a projected revenue growth of 55.3% over the next four years[12] as it increases sales to other European nations.              

But the Senedd does not have control over what happens to the water from Wales.  Instead, it is commodified by two principal companies; Severn Trent Water and United Utilities.  These groups have the legal “right” to extract over 133 billion litres[13] of water per annum.  Taking from Welsh lakes, reservoirs and the river Dee which, due to this extraction, could see up to 80% less water in summer months by 2050[14], a natural resource which ought to be managed and benefiting all who live in Wales.  And, while these private companies pay only £2.5 million a year[15] for the extraction of this Welsh water, they made a combined yearly pre-tax profit of £884.1 million[16],[17] for the year ending 2021.  Money which is lost to the people of Wales.  The question is, “Why is this indispensable life-giving resource of water in the control of private companies at all?”

The YesCymru petition can be signed here. 

Simon is a Mining engineer and trading consultant for mining brokerage firms.

 

[1] Lorch. Dr. Mark., Why is water so strange?, BBC Science Focus (2022).

[2] We own it, Time to take back our water, Weownit.org (2022).

[3] Wikipedia, List of Reservoirs in England and Wales, Wiki Media (2022).

[4] Hwb, Lakes and Reservoirs of Wales, Llywodraeth Cymru / Welsh Government (2022).

[5] Frampton. Ben., UK Heatwave: How much water does Wales pump to England?, BBC (2018).

[6] Nation Cymru, 7,000 demand Senedd has full control of Welsh water as protests take place at valleys drowned to create reservoirs, Nation Cymru (2022).

[7] Environment Agency, Meeting our Future Water Needs: A National Framework for Water Resources, Environment Agency (2020).

[8] Page 10 of the Summary report (2020).

[9] Page 5 of the Summary report, footnote 1. & 2. (2020).

[10] Danube water programme, A state of the sector - Slovenia, SOS Danubis (2015).

[11] Population of Lithuania is 1.902 million (2020) and population of Wales is 3.136 million (2019) – Eurostat, ec.europa.eu (2022).

[12] IBIS World, Water Collection, Treatment & Supply in Lithuania – Industry Statistics 2008 to 2026, Ibisworld.com (2021).

[13] Owen. Cathy., Where our water in Wales actually ends up, Wales Online (2022).

[14] Environment Agency, Environment Agency convenes National Drought Group – Dry weather impacts expected to continue as key decision makers come together to discuss current situation, Environment Agency (2022).

[15] Frampton. Ben., UK Heatwave: How much water does Wales pump to England?, BBC (2018).

[16] Beech. Adam., Pre-tax profits top £270m at Severn Trent, Insider Media Limited (2022) - Seven Trent Water reported pre-tax profits of £274.1mn for the year to 31st March 2022, up by £6.9mn in 2021.

[17] United Utilities Group, Full Year Results for the Year Ended 31st March 2022, United Utilities Group PLC (2022) – United Utilities reported profits of £610mn for the year end 31st March 2022, up £7.9mn in 2021.

 

 

 

 

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