With temperatures rising this summer in an unprecedented heatwave, we are all being urged to switch off the tap as much as possible.
Natural Resources Wales recently reported that Wales saw just 62% of its’ annual rainfall between March and June this year.
Soaring temperatures have contributed to very low river flows, and it was reported last week that extra water was pumped into the River Dee in North Wales in an attempt to reduce fish mortality.
The weather has led to a 25% demand for water, with Welsh Water supplying 198 million litres of water in addition to the standard 800 million litres.
In addition to this, according to Natural Resources Wales, groundwater currently supplies around 5% of the public water supply in Wales. However, groundwater may be the only viable water source for isolated properties and shortages can have a particularly adverse impact on farming and agriculture.
These situations serve to highlight the essential commodity of water, which will be the focus of this week’s column.
2019 marked the 30 year anniversary of the 1989 Water Act, which saw the privatisation of water across England and Wales, to the tune of £7.6 billion.
While there have been benefits to privatisation, such as the investment of £160 billion to provide safer drinking water, and a reduction of leakages by up to a third since the mid-1990s, is it time to consider nationalising water in Wales?
While it is not in question that we are fortunate to have access to safe, clean and high-quality water here in Wales, the reality is that the profits of Water are not divested in Wales, but in private Water companies, with taxes going straight to the UK Treasury, rather than benefiting Wales.
Given the essential quality of water and the fact that it is, in essence, a human right, maximising profits should not be the primary objective of any nationalisation strategy.
Better perhaps to consider adopting a model such as that of Dwr Cymru, which according to the website, is owned by a single purpose company with no shareholders.
It is worth pointing out that it is difficult to establish what water would be worth to a Welsh Treasury.
Research from Professor John Ball, using water companies’ data that operate the Llyn Celyn, Elan Valley, and Lake Vyrnwy reservoirs, suggests that water exported to Wales is worth around £2 billion annually.
According to research by Mike Murphy, published on the Gwlad website in 2021, estimates suggest that when charging a modest extraction fee of £0.05 – £0.1p per litre, the Welsh Treasury could generate an annual income of around £200 – £400 million.
Costs aside, it is fair to suggest that Water is still a controversial issue in Wales, not least due to the flooding of the Tryweryn Valley in 1965.
In 2018, GMB called for water to be transported from the Craig Goch reservoir to the South East of England.
While no one should oppose supplying water in times of need, any such extraction should be sustainable following consultation with the Welsh Government, and negotiated for a fair price for consumers in Wales and England, alike.
Whether water would produce an annual income of £200 million or £1billion to a Welsh Treasury, it is worth noting that this money could be invested in flood defences, or for generating more water, particularly to supply vulnerable communities and those living in isolated properties that are reliant on groundwater.
This is an article written by Maria Pritchard of Yes Milford Haven and published in the Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper on 05.08.2022