You could have had a hosepipe on constantly since before the Queen was on the throne and you still wouldn’t have used as much as Thames Water wastes in 24 hours, according to the GMB Union.
The cost of drought to London’s economy could be £330 million per day.
While director compensation increased, investment in water infrastructure has lagged.
GMB union suggests that such critical infrastructure should be nationalised.
Thames Water wastes the same amount of water as having a hosepipe on for more than 73 years – every single day. The 24th August is the day the company imposes a drought-related hosepipe ban on 15 million customers. This seems like a reasonable response to drought situations until it becomes clear quite how much water Thames Water loses on a daily basis. The company is telling individuals what to do in order to conserve water – which for many feels like the height of hypocrisy.
Thames Water infamous for leaky infrastructure and water loss
Due to the dire state of its infrastructure, the company loses 635 million litres in leaks every single day. That’s enough to have a hosepipe on for 73 years, fill 245 Olympic-sized swimming pools or fill 8 million baths. Every single day. The GMB points out that in 2021 Thames Water handed its directors more than £4 million, with the highest paid director taking home £1.5 million – up 67% from the year before.
Part of the thinking behind the privatisation of the water industry was the idea that private companies would be more efficient in investment and infrastructure management. But the failure to address leaky infrastructure, which has been a well-known concern for many years, rather undercuts that argument.
Impact of drought and importance of action was well know years ago
Back in 2019, Labour’s London Assembly Environment Spokesperson, Leonie Cooper published a report Running Out or Flooded Out? which said that National Audit Office (NAO) data shows that household water and sewerage bills in England had risen by 40% since privatisation in 1989. Yet investment in water supply infrastructure was lower in 2018 than in 1990. The report also referred to projections from Thames Water itself that the cost of drought to London’s economy alone could be £330 million per day. And yet action remains to be taken.
Thames Water looks after 68,000 miles of sewers and 20,000 miles of clean water pipes from London in the east to Swindon in the west. The company says that it is fixing over 1,100 leaks on its 20,000-mile network every week and has met its leakage reduction targets for the past three years.
While the network may be complex and hard to manage, it is only recently that a taskforce was put together including utility firms and the Geospatial Commission to consolidate all the data about water infrastructure in one place – something that would make managing and upgrading the network easier.
The Environment Agency said in August 2022 that eight out of the 14 regions in the UK were officially in drought status. Given that the South East has been expected to be in permanent water stress by 2030, none of this is unexpected.
GMB argues that water infrastructure should be in public hands
GMB has long campaigned for water to be brought back into public hands. Andy Prendergast, GMB National Secretary, said: “From today, 15 million people across the South East can no longer use their hosepipe. Meanwhile every single day, Thames Water wastes enough water to have a hosepipe on for more than 70 years. Instead of spending money to fix the leaky infrastructure, they’re showering directors with eye-watering sums. Privatising water has been a disastrous failed experiment, it’s time to bring this essential natural resource back into public hands.”
Whether or not you agree that the public infrastructure underpinning our water system would be better managed by the public sector – there is little question that Thames Water is suffering further reputational damage.