Woking People Of Faith

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Thought for the Week: What can be done about the water industry?

On Saturday 23 March, 24 people in person and 13 on Zoom met to consider What can be done about the water industry? at the Woking Debate led by three great speakers. Andrew McManus grew up in India where water was precious and tap water might be on for just two hours a day and needed to be boiled before drinking. He is saddened and frustrated by how dirty we are making our water and is an active campaigner on this issue. When there is a storm the water goes straight into our rivers mixed along with our sewage water. The intention was to enable this to happen only in an extreme weather event but this was never put into the legislation. The Chobham sewage works in a site of Special Scientific Interest has discharge untreated sewage into the river Bourne twice a month or 98 times in the year. When Thames Water came to the Woking Council overview and scrutiny Committee they did not apologise for this. Nor have they paid any dividends to their shareholders. The Government has failed in their duty to properly legislate. The Environment Agency has had its funding cut and struggles to enforce the legislation in place. Kevin Davis, leader of the Conservative group on Woking Council spoke next. He has been on the environment group at the Council for twelve years and on the Scrutiny committee asked questions of Thames Water when they came to the Meeting. He agreed with Andrew that tighter regulation is needed but opposes re nationalisation. He believes the key to the problem is in the planning system. We had the big storms in February and how much water the system can deal with comes down to the capacity that is in the system to hold water. Woking Borough Council has created a system of water gardens to hold more water. We have a problem of too many people here in the South East. Our sewage system cannot cope. The system is effectively 80 years old. In Brookwood a single Victorian pipe runs through the village carrying all the water supply. Thames Water has spent £1.8 billion repairing old pipes. There is a problem of what is flushed down the toilet creating blockages. We need to develop grey water harvesting using the rain water to flush our toilets. Angela Shaw spoke last. She is an environmental artist and activist with XR. Art is an important way to convey the message. XR has campaigned on dirty water. Collaborating with other groups is very important to build a movement for change. The issue is urgent. Fresh water is only 2.5% of all the water on Earth and only 1% of the total water is accessible to us and we are running out. China has seen a range of temperatures from -50C to 50C. Areas of the world are becoming uninhabitable. In England and Wales there are ten authorities covering waste water. Thames Water covers a huge area and it is going bust. In April it has to repay a huge loan and by the end of the year an even bigger loan and it will struggle to do this. Much water in our tap comes from rivers and if this is polluted then it becomes a problem for our health. Half of the water in the river Wey is used to provide water for our taps. When this becomes polluted then tankers have to be brought in to provide clean water as was the case in Godalming recently. Chalk streams are very rare and really important environmentally and we are fortunate to have them in our area and they need to be protected. MPs in 2021 voted against restrictions on polluting our water ways. In the XR campaign they work for change. Farming is also a big polluter of our rivers with chemicals from fertilisers and pest treatments draining into the rivers. The question was asked what is the definition of an excessive rainfall event? No definition is given in the legislation as if it is laid down then the water authorities will be held to it. We need more capacity to cope with the predicted increased storms. A person reported that she had reported a leak in Triggs Lane on 29 January to the Water authority who got back to her on 24 February saying the work was scheduled. She contacted the highways authority who took it up with the water authority on Friday and the leak was fixed on the following Monday! It pays to persevere. Kevin Davis agreed, saying that the more people who report problems the quicker they will be dealt with. Don’t walk on by but get involved. Press the button on the traffic signal when you want to cross the road as this will be registered. What will happen if Thames Water goes bust? We should renationalise it thought Andrew as if we just give the authority more money it will go towards the debts Thames Water owes rather than to fixing the problems of our water quality. Kevin agreed that the Government will have to step in and we should let the company go bust. We should give rivers their own rights and legal protection in law like companies. Some water companies want to put prices up by 70%. Have we not paid enough over the years? One person is refusing to pay the sewage element of his water bill due to the poor performance of Thames water. Asked if there were any positive stories Kevin told us of the Thames Tideway Tunnel which will reduce combined sewage overflows by 40% and replace systems 170 years old. Whales are coming onto the Thames. Improvements are being made but the water companies need pushing. EU legislation is not being applied to our environmental standards. There is a right to access our waters but when ten children swam in the Wey eight went sick and three were hospitalised. Dye is put in our water to make it look bluer and healthier! People are still paving and tarmacing their driveways and gardens. Since 2016 there has been a need to put in a soak away but there is a problem in enforcing this. The Government had abandoned plans to keep to EU directions. People can appeal if Local Authorities impose environmental standards and an inspector will often overrule them when the costs will have to be paid by the Local Authority. Kevin thought the Government has let us down using Covid as an excuse. There is a problem in building on flood plains. Grey water was discussed further. The Woking environmental house the Council built in Raynes Close to be an example of environmental standards used grey water. It can be retrospectively fitted but is very expensive to do so. Andrew’s father did so putting in a tank in the garden to catch the water. In conclusion there was a great agreement on what we need to do. Kevin said that organisations and people can work together to improve standards and drive issues. We can ask questions at Council meetings. Angela spoke about the importance off alliance building and of keeping caring about these issues, Andrew spoke about how we are all involved in these issues. It affects us all and we all need to become active and put pressure on the authorities. Get involved when we see a problem and join him when he goes to Parliament with his toilet! Visit www.wokingdebates.com for further information

Date: Wednesday 27th March 2024


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