We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Water and some basic economics

As I write this, it is raining in a slight but persistent drizzle outside my Pimlico flat, central London. It has been a mixed bag on the weather front recently: some spells of great warm weather but a fair amount of rain. The cricket match at Lords was briefly interrupted by it. One can bet that the Wimbledon tennis tournament later in the summer will undergo the familiar ritual of thrilling matches being interrupted by rain (although I hear there are plans afoot to put a giant cover over the Centre Court stadium in due course).

Despite all this, we are told that Britain faces an unprecedented drought. All manner of water restrictions are threatened, although thankfully, given the less-than-wonderful personal habits of Londoners (any Tube user will know what I mean) it is still allowed for us to take a morning shower. In short, shortages. This appears insane in a country famed or infamous for its damp summers. It is an island in which few places are more than 100 miles from the sea. In a wider context, most of the Earth’s surface is covered in the stuff. What’s the problem?

The ‘shortages’ we have now have a number of causes, from what I can glean. There has been a substantial population rise in the southeast of England. Greater affluence means more dishwashers, bigger washing machines. Increasingly, many people will often have more than one bathroom in a house. Other, wetter, parts of the UK like the famously wet area to the west of the Pennines have not seen the same sort of population growth. There is plenty of water in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There ought, however, to be no problem if markets were given the chance to work their unplanned magic. If water is scarce, then that means supply is not responding to demand as might be shown through prices in a market. Hence we need water metering, greater freedoms for water firms to dig new reservoirs, repair and lay down new pipes, build desalination plants (why the hell not?)… and the like. Why should water be free at the point of consumption if it costs time and effort to collect, clean and transport it? What the water industry needs is a shower of entrepreneurial flair. Water needs a Steve Jobs or a Brunel, not bossy exhortations about not watering the lawn.

I can see the objections coming: water is a ‘natural monopoly’ and has to be regulated. How true is that? It may be true that in practice, it is unlikely that you will get more than one firm operating a reservoir and pipe system in one neighbourhood, but that does not mean, in my view, that you could not have more flexibility than now exists to let water firms set prices and hence encourage new supplies, shape patterns of demand, and so forth. For example, if an area of the UK has a water firm that charges a fortune for water, that will affect house prices, and therefore may encourage would-be homeowners to go elsewhere to where water is cheaper, and so on. Imperfect though this may sound, it strikes me that the price of water supply should be an economic factor that determines behaviour as much as say, the cost to a person in commuting to the City.

There may be some other reasons for some regulatory oversight, such as security. Due to fears about terrorism, we may want any water firm to have strict controls to ensure some nutter does not try to poison the populace, although this could just as likely happen with a state-run water company as a private one. Given water’s vital importance to human life, a state may feel that it must ensure that a bare minimum supply is guaranteed and may want to create a sort of strategic reserve of reservoirs and suchlike, rather like the US oil reserve.

A useful site for people who want to look into this issue is here and a good Wikipedia entry on the subject with its usual plethora of links is here.

There has not been nearly enough public debate about this most basic element of life. It is about time there was. In the meantime, the world watches Britain’s annual ritual: praying for a lot of rain.

78 comments to Water and some basic economics

  • GCooper

    In the meantime, while waiting for someone brave enough to let the free market have a try, two things should happen.

    The first is that whoever suggested water privatisation be handled in such a way as to endow former state employees with local monopolies should be put up against a wall and shot. Naturally, ater a long and agonising period of the Chinese water torture.

    The second is that a couple of large pipes should be placed down the length of the country, shifting rain from the North, where it is and people are no longer.

    It really is that simple.

  • Certainly water *pipes* are a natural monopoly. Whether you could have some sort of national grid of water is an interesting theory. Whether you would want private water is quite another thing…

  • Midwesterner

    I am always perplexed by conversations about water. I haven’t lived on a government operated water system since I was eight years old.

    Back in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s I lived in an unicorporated suburb with a privately operated water company. It probably provided water for about 200 households. We got a monthly water bill and if the company owners didn’t respond to complaints, we called the county health department who would make sure the water met official standards.

    Since that time, I’ve lived in two different houses, each with a well. We pay to have it drilled, pay for the pump and pressure tank, and pay for the electricity, maintainence and repairs.

    It sounds like you guys in Great Britain are handling your water like people in Phoenix Arizona. Except, those guy are getting their water from 1 or 2 states away. They live in a desert and don’t have their own natural water supply.

    How come your gov ever took control of private water supplies? Do you have major areas without naturally present groundwater?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    GCooper, of course, it may be “that simple” to pipe water from Scotland and Wales. If one could price water, then presumably it would be a commercial no-brainer for a company to do just that.

    Midwesterner: since the late 19th Century, water supply has been thought of as an indisputably public good, like roads or defence, and it was not until Mrs. Thatcher came along that water privatisation was embraced. As GCooper put it, privatisation did not break some of the old monopolies.

  • GCooper – Just because one is working under an insane political climate does not mean that you don’t know your business. It is quite possible (and it has happened in the real world) for an employee group to mount a bid and win the right to run a government system under a private contract. The dead wood rules get pitched over the side, performance is measured accurately, and you have virtually no disruption in service because there is no transition to worry about. The same people are running the thing, just without the politics and antiquated rules that choked performance in the past.

  • GCooper

    Johnathan Pearce writes:

    “GCooper, of course, it may be “that simple” to pipe water from Scotland and Wales.”

    It is indeed that simple. In the early 1900s, Birmingham put an end to its water shortage by constructing a 70 mile aquaduct, leading to a reservoir in Wales.

    There has been no problem with water supply in Birmingham, since. It needed water. It bought it.

    The only thing keeping the South East short of water is the lack of will power to do anything about it.

    Now the finances might be awkward, I grant you. But the current private monopoly situation was guaranteed only ever to make things worse.

  • James

    Leaky pipes and millions of litres of wasted water might have something to do with it ;)

    Nice excuse to get everybody on a metre, mind…

  • Midwesterner

    Johnathan,

    I could be misremembering, but didn’t you grow up on a farm? You may know, did they run mains out to the farms far from anywhere? If farms had wells, how were they owned and operated?

    Like I said, I’m confused, your system is totally unknown to me.

    To suggest a model that would probably address almost all concerns stated, two complete distribution systems (mains and feeders) owned by entirely unconnected companies. As many water providers as want to provide water. Customers can choose which distribution system and which provider they want.

    It would have the redundency that would make it more sabotage and disaster resistent. It would create pure competition between providers. It would provide some competition between distributors.

    Providers could have any source from pipelines to wells to tankers, you name it.

    Distributors would declare minimum quality standards and hold providers to that standard.

    Problems:
    One bad provider could contaminate one of the systems, this could be addressed in the distributor/provider contract with severe penalties.

    One would be unable to actually get water that came from the chosen providers reservoirs.

    A similar system could work for electricity.

  • I’ve been looking for rainfall statistics. I found some, courtesy of the Met Office, though on 5 separate web pages. Here they are:

    Annual average rainfall for South East and Central South England:

    2005 604.6mm
    2004 756.2mm
    2003 641.1mm
    2002 1004.5mm

    So average annual rainfall 2002..2005: 751.6mm

    Average annual rainfall 1971..2000: 776.5mm

    There were no figures for 2001.

    Thus the average over the last 4 years is 3.2% below the 1971..2000 long-term average. The average over the last 3 years (ignoring the very high year of 2002) is 667.3mm, 14.1% down on that long-term average.

    Does this help anyone work out whether the current drastic measures are a proportionate response to just drought, or indicitive of other causes as well?

    Best regards

  • Sandy P

    There’s been a couple of articles in the US papers that we’re starting to go into the 30s drought-like conditions.

    There is an exchange-traded fund (EFT) which is geared to water and water supplies.

    Cheap, too, considering. Bot some for the long haul.

  • Freeman

    Here, in Devon, the cost of water is about twice that of London for a similar type of house. This tells me that the London system is grossly underfunded. Coupled with the leakage and population growth, no wonder there is a shortage in the SE. It’s a management problem, but with no competitive supplier, who cares about the convenience of the customer?
    Incidently, the SE area (eg Peterborough) has only the same rainfall as Jerusalem, so much of the UK is not that wet, it’s just the drizzle and clouds which make it feel that way.

  • Mike Lorrey

    Odd that this topic should come up, as it’s been raining for five days solid here in the Free State. We’re up over 12 inches of rain in that time (30 cm to you blokes), though we were around 4-5 inches in the negative going into last week. The flooding has been a topic on national television. In Nashua, the Merrimack River is 12 feet over flood stage, and Saugus, Massachusetts, is been 70% underwater, with many other communities in similar but less severe straits. Essentially Katrina without all the thunder and roar.

    WRT water supply, the big problem is the purification and storage of purified water, not the amount of rainfall. Here in NH, it is population growth (from 1.0 million to 1.3 million in last 20 years), combined with so-called “growth control” ordinances that mandate larger lot sizes for homes in rural areas, which of course leads to big lawns and lots of water used watering the grass.

    Then of course, there was the infamous canoe ride that former Governor Jeanne Shaheen gave VP Al Gore during the previous election, in which a dam upstream was opened merely to raise water levels high enough to keep the canoe from scraping the bottom of the Connecticutt River. So much for the environmental candidate…

  • gravid

    The main problem in the UK is adequate water storage, namely the lack of it. We do not have the facilites to store enough for times of drought never mind chronically leaking pipes. When the population goes up in a certain area then shortages are what will happen, under the current system.
    More reservoirs are needed with more ancilliary covered storage too. A national water grid is an interesting idea though. I’m buying a couple of rain butts to water the garden with or for flushing the lav.

  • Well at least its better than being in Massachusetts right now.

  • GCooper

    gravid writes:

    “The main problem in the UK is adequate water storage, namely the lack of it. We do not have the facilites to store enough for times of drought never mind chronically leaking pipes.”

    True. And it’s a situation that wouldn’t have been quite so bad if water companies in the South East hadn’t actually been closing reservoirs in recent years!

  • Kim du Toit

    I’m confused. Are UK householders forbidden to have a well drilled? It strikes me that much of the country has a water table which must be close to the surface (less than 100 feet or 30 metres), and so drilling cannot be that expensive. But is it legal?

    Also, I’m a little leery of rainfall figures for the late 1990s. Didn’t England have severe floods for two years running then?

  • David

    I was in Las Vegas a couple of years ago and its very green in places- they reuse a lot of water for non drinking purposes – for lawns, car washes, toilet etc. A policy we could well do with. IIRC it was something astonishing like 93% of all water was reused.

    A few years back there was a problem in London with rising water table threatening to submerge some of the lower tube station tracks. The cause was that so much industry had left London so didn’t take as much out. Some private companies were intending to pump non drinking water, much like Las Vegas, I wonder what happened to them.

  • JT

    No. 15 on the list of EU areas of control identified on the Europa website is ‘Environment’.

    The fifth sub-heading within ‘Environment’ is ‘Water’.

    Within ‘Water’ there are the following EU rules and regulations to contend with:-

    1. Framework Directive in the field of water policy, including
    a) Priority substances in the field of water policy
    b) Pricing and long-term management of water

    2. Specific uses of water:-
    a) Drinking water
    b) New requirements
    c) Surface freshwater: quality and control requirements
    d) Surface fresh water: methods of measurement and analysis
    e) Bathing water
    f) Urban waste water treatment
    g) Water suitable for fish-breeding

    3. There are also rules on
    a) Protection of groundwater against pollution
    b) Integrated pollution prevention and reduction
    c) Other dangerous substances: protection of the aquatic environment
    d) Other dangerous substances: protection of groundwater

    Before coming up with any bright ideas we’d have to check that they would be compliant with the rules laid down by our EU masters.

    One of the problems as I understand it is that much of the money spent by water companies over recent years on the infrastructure has been directed at those elements affected by EU rules on water purity etc., which was already pretty good in the UK, and not on tackling leaky pipes which are the cause of the loss of up to a third of the water supply before it even gets to the home, office or factory.

    Another hidden cost of the EU.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    The only thing keeping the South East short of water is the lack of will power to do anything about it.

    That is too simple. It is not that the water firms cannot see the massive profits to be won by piping water from the wetter bits of the UK to the south. If one of the firms involved could lay down such a pipe, they’d start work on it tomorrow. It is that, for starters, planning laws etc make this a difficult proposition. Imagine the delays, the wrangling, etc.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Midwesterner, as far as I know, it is not illegal for some householders, like those in rural areas, to dig wells. On my parents’ farm, we used acquifers for our water for some time but changed to the main supplies when the quality became a problem. I think that draining water off rivers is closely regulated these days. Some years ago a Suffolk farmer was prosecuted for draining water from a river to irrigate his crops.

    Like one of the other commenters, I have a bit of a garden at my flat and will be putting some water barrels out to catch any rainfall.

    According to Thames Water, London Mayor Ken Livingstone opposes a desalination plant to draw clean water off the Thames. I have no idea why apart from his sheer cussedness.

  • Trofim

    As someone who spends half his life in the garden, it is clear to me that this spring has been unusually dry, and my ma and pa have an acute sense of how much rain falls, and have been worrying aloud for months now. (This is Worcestershire). I save a lot of water by peeing in the garden, on the compost heap or direct. I rarely pee in the bog unless it’s a big job too.

  • m m

    The second is that a couple of large pipes should be placed down the length of the country, shifting rain from the North, where it is and people are no longer.

    Or people in the SE could wake up to the fact that the cost of living is a lot less ‘up north’.

    Building a pipeline is just like adding another lane to a motorway, a deferral of the real solution.

    In addition the lunacy of the wider Thames Gateway ‘regeneration’ project means that the government is actively fuelling future resource shortages in the region (my opinion on the matter, from March).

  • J

    People in the UK can and do have wells. But most houses are connected to mains water, and switching to a well is very expensive. In remote areas, wells and springs are used quite often.

    Water metering would be a good way to stop it being wasted by consumers, and as a low user of water, I wish I could be metered. But I’ve no idea how to stop the water companies wasting the stuff – it’s hard to imagine an incentive other than punishments by the government. Rainfall in SE England (and even more so in East Anglia) is really not that high, and companies have relied on deep groundwater rather than surface reservoirs. Extraction from these reservoirs has exceeded the rate at which they refil for years, probably decades, less because of reduced rainfall, more because of increased water use. Now they are getting empty.

    There is no incentive for the water companies to build de-salination plants, or huge pipes. If they wait long enough, the government will pay for those things, and then give them to the water companies to run. Bargain!

  • RPW

    “The only thing keeping the South East short of water is the lack of will power to do anything about it.”

    Depends what you mean by “lack of will power”. If you mean a certain reluctance to use the power of the state to force property owners in places like Wales or Scotland off their land in order to make way for reservoirs for the convenience of people in Birmingham and London, then yes, willpower is a problem. However I thought that sort of statist droit de seigneur was not usually regarded as a respectable solution in these parts?

    If people in the south-east want water that badly they should (a) plug their damn leaks; (b) utilise their own resources more efficiently even it does mean irritating ken Livingstone or (c) move to Manchester before stealing other peoples’.

  • GCooper

    Johnathan Pearce writes:

    “That is too simple.”

    Of course it’s not too simple. It is perfectly possible and the only thing standing in the way of anyone having done it over the past decades has been a lack of the political or commercial will to do it.

    Compared with the building of a new road or rail line, it’s nothing to get excited about. How do you suppose gas is moved around the country?

    “It is not that the water firms cannot see the massive profits to be won by piping water from the wetter bits of the UK to the south. If one of the firms involved could lay down such a pipe, they’d start work on it tomorrow. It is that, for starters, planning laws etc make this a difficult proposition. Imagine the delays, the wrangling, etc.”

    Without universal metering (though I have doubts about that, for other reasons) the water companies have no incentive at all to do it, because there is no competition to supply.

    As for the business about planning etc, see above about gas infrastructure, which happened ‘as if by magic’ in the early 1970s.

    If there was a real clamour for action, it could be done. It hasn’t been because no one has thought either that they’d get their arse kicked for not doing it, or could make money out of seeing it through.

  • The Dude

    The hamlet where I used to live in North Yorkshire had it’s own water supply shared between 5 households. A borehole down to an underground spring which had been there since the 17th Century. £150 per yer per household covered all the costs + enough to go into a contingency fund.

    Didn’t have mains water or mains draingage. When the the local health inspector tested the water he said it was the best around for miles.

    Now that I live in the South East I can’t drink the water and have to buy bottled. It tastes like swimming pool water, infact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the swimming pool water was healthier!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    It is perfectly possible and the only thing standing in the way of anyone having done it over the past decades has been a lack of the political or commercial will to do it.

    I think we arguing past each other here, since I totally agree that lack of political will is part of the problem. Why would a commercial entity, however, that can see the prospect of big profits from such a venture not do it? Surely the problem is that the planning system, etc, makes it a nightmare for a company to propose building a pipeline stretching hundreds of miles.

    What is needed is for our politicians to at least loosen up parts of the land planning system so that such a venture does not get buggered up by red tape.

    Then your idea could go ahead, pronto.

  • dearieme

    Nearly all the population growth is in the south east. Parts, especially parts of East Anglia, are arid. All large civil engineering projects are potentially subject to endless delay from the planning permission system. Managements can be hamstrung by regulators. All rain is not equal: what the water companies really need is persistent winter rain.
    Alternatively, some bright spark suggested that our fine, old, under-used canal system could quickly be adapted to bring water from the north and west.

  • dunderheid

    Speaking from one of the wetter bits of the UK(Scotland) it sounds like we’re sitting on a bit of an earner here. I wonder how much you sassenachs are willing to pay for nice green lawns.

    Saying that as soon as it looks like we might make some money out of it the Scottish Soviet…I mean Parliament… will likely nationalise it and spend the money on urban development officers for Lewis.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    RPW also makes a very good point about compulsory purchase and property rights (what is known as eminent domain in the USA). GCooper’s desire for a simple pipeline to be built across the UK would seem to raise rather a lot of issues about the property rights of folk who might be affected. As RPW said, this is something that ought to be obvious around this blog, and I should have raised it earlier.

  • dunderheid

    The pipeline issue is a bit of a red herring….Scotland has already plenty of pipelines for oil and gas and few ever cause much contraversy due to the generous compensation and the fact that once the pipeline is in the ground the owner gets the use of his/her land back.

    The main obstacle as I jokingly alluded to earlier, is the fact that for some reason “Scotlands Water” has become a hot button issue up here. When the privatisation of the water companies was proposed, the ridiculous belief took hold that the english were going to steal a vital national resource. So much so that Nats and Scottish Socialists threatened quasi terrorist behavior. Predictably after devolution and a labour administration privatisation was abandoned.

    The upshot is that to transfer water down south even if it involved significant financial rewards, would require political bravery that is rare in the Peoples Republic of Scotland

  • GCooper

    Johnathan Pearce writes:

    “GCooper’s desire for a simple pipeline to be built across the UK would seem to raise rather a lot of issues about the property rights of folk who might be affected”

    If that were a serious objection, how would a new road, railway line, power station, or any other disruptive contrivance ever be built?

    As I wrote before, such pipelines already exist, so it is perfectly possible to do. Damn it, you could simply lay a water pipe next to the existing oil and gas lines, or run one by the side of the main rail track. We’re not talking about something the size of the Channel Tunnel.

    Frankly, these are just the usual ‘reasons why we can’t do anything’ which result in the sub-standard, paralysed infrasructure we in Britain suffer on a daily basis.

  • Young Fogey

    Nowhere in the UK is more than 100 miles from the sea. According to the BBC’s documentary series ‘Coast’, you’re never more than 72 miles from the sea.

    So there we are.

  • Odd. I spent several years in the Greater London area as a small child, in the ’50s. I remember often seeing cows swimming in the fields and having to go out in Wellington boots every other day, it seemed. Sounds like a management problem to me.

  • Kevin B

    We’ve had two dry winters in a row and it is this that has led to a lack of water in the aquifers and reservoirs.

    I’m old enough to remember the last time this happened and there was much ballyhoo in the press, questions in the House and even a Minister for Drought.

    Drastic Action was mooted, and promised, including a national water grid with pipelines from the North and West, and all the usual objections were raised.

    Then the winter rainfall levels returned to normal, the reservoirs and aquifers filled up, the Minister for Drought went back to other duties and all the drastic and expensive solutions were forgotten.

    We ought to be able to supply potable water for every household in Britain, after all counties with far less rainfall than ours seem to manage, but because we get so much rainfall most of the time, it’s not cost effective to do it.

    Think of the hoohaa when an inch of snow causes the South to grind to a halt. It’s embarrassing, sure, but is it worth investing in Scandinavian levels of snow clearing gear for the once in ten years occurance.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    how would a new road, railway line, power station, or any other disruptive contrivance ever be built?

    By proving clear public need and paying the owners of the affected property just compensation, as is the case with other public use confiscations for roads, ports, military installations, and the like. I am not against public confiscation for uses that are in the clear public interest, although my definitiions would be set very tightly to avoid the sort of scams we saw in the recent dreadful U.S. Kelo ruling by the Supreme Court.

    Damn it, you could simply lay a water pipe next to the existing oil and gas lines, or run one by the side of the main rail track.

    That’s a pretty good idea, actually, since presumably there would be no property rights wrangles to negotiate.

  • dunderheid

    Water pipelines if they are anything like oil and gas pipelines will run underground for the vast majority of their length.

    The government and/or their appointed pipeline administrator acquire the right to:
    install the pipeline
    gain access to maintain the pipeline if required
    veto any use of the land that will affect the pipeline

    Given that they will lie under agricultural land for the most part (reservoir to reservoir) these arent very onerous conditions

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Frankly, these are just the usual ‘reasons why we can’t do anything’ which result in the sub-standard, paralysed infrasructure we in Britain suffer on a daily basis.

    Well, it is true that the Brits are a fairly bloodyminded lot when it comes to protecting property from Grand Projects, although they are often not bloody minded enough, in my opinion. The power of compulsory purchase needs to be used with considerable care, and if that means Britain has a few eccentricities in its road network etc, I’m happy with that. No doubt they run things more efficiently in countries with a less tender attention to property, such as France or North Korea.

  • GCooper

    Johnathan Pearce writes:

    ” No doubt they run things more efficiently in countries with a less tender attention to property, such as France or North Korea.”

    They also do them considerably better in that role model so many here admire, the USA.

    This story isn’t about property rights or any other abstract notion. It is about a lousy system in a shabby country in which privatisation was criminally mishandled.

    For once, I am in full agreement with the Telegraph which, today, published a leader saying inter alia : “This “drought” is a myth, put about by greedy monopolies to serve their own ends.”

    Quite!

  • Pete

    Oh, come off it. This winter it didn’t really rain at all until April and even then it’s been very light. As a cross-country runner I’ve hardly needed my spikes, but it seems very obvious to me that these are exceptional circumstances.

    I assume all these moaners who demand the right to wash their car and drown their lawns with unlimited treated drinking water are the same bores who moan about how “the whole country grinds to a halt whenever there’s an inch of snow”. Well, personally I prefer to suffer some mild inconvenience in unusual weather than maintain huge redundant infrastructure.

  • GCooper

    Pete writes:

    “Well, personally I prefer to suffer some mild inconvenience in unusual weather than maintain huge redundant infrastructure.”

    There writes someone who has never used a standpipe.

  • JEM

    Damn it, you could simply lay a water pipe next to the existing oil and gas lines, or run one by the side of the main rail track. We’re not talking about something the size of the Channel Tunnel.

    In fact it might take as long and cost as much as the Channel Tunnel. Certainly a much larger project than oil or gas pipelines.

    The volume and mass of water that would have to be piped south from (say) Scotland sufficient to make a difference would have to be vast compared with any oil or gas pipeline. The cost, especially of having it all underground, would be umpteen £billions and even leaving aside the time (many years) needed to get planning approval, would be many years again to design and build.

    In fact as a practical matter much of it would have to be in deep tunnel as the cost of pumping millions of tons of water over the Pennines (say) every day would be humungious if you tried to do the job by canal.

    The fact is that the present drought is mild compared with the ones Britain had in the ’70s and the ’30s. In both cases, nature sorted the problem out in two or three years.

    So, don’t panic!

    Naturally some people (the usual suspects) are trying to tell us the drought is due to global warming. Considering the two earlier droughts just mentioned, it’s obvious it is not.

    I’m pretty certain it’s nothing whatever to do with GW, but the irony is that if it was caused by climate change, a drought would actually be evidence of global cooling, if anything: less warming of the ocean, less evaporation, less clouds, less rain…

  • GCooper

    JEM writes:

    “The volume and mass of water that would have to be piped south from (say) Scotland sufficient to make a difference would have to be vast compared with any oil or gas pipeline.”

    Nonsense. With very minor infrastructure costs, water is already being diverted from the Medway to the Bewl Water reservoir, to assist. I suggest you do your maths again and pay special attention to the solution Joe Chamberlain achieved for Birmingham (op. cit.) with a mere brick aquaduct over 100 years ago.

    If the flow operates 24hrs per day, 7 days per week and runs Winter and Summer, it’s amazing how much can be shifted down a (comparatively) small pipe.

  • JEM

    “The volume and mass of water that would have to be piped south from (say) Scotland sufficient to make a difference would have to be vast compared with any oil or gas pipeline.”

    Nonsense.

    No, the nonsense is all yours.

    I gather you know absolutely nothing about the actual scale and cost of major aquaduct projects — which are way up among the most expensive, difficult and time-consuming civil engineering projects in the world.

    (They always have been. They were by far the biggest constructions projects of the Roman Empire. The technology has moved on, but the scale and cost has never ceased to be vast.)

    What Joe Chamberlain built would be a tiddler compared with what we are considering here. Indeed, the water supply and delivery systems for Manchester and Glasgow are both far larger than Chamberlain’s relatively tiny efforts for Birmingham.

    The largest aquaduct system in the world is the Colorado River Aqueduct which is a 242 mile system that deivers water to southern California. In 1992 it was recognised by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the Seven Wonders of American Engineering. It took eight years to build and at today’s prices would have cost about $40 billion.

    A pipeline from somewhere like the Trossachs area (where the fresh water is) in the Scottish Highlands to London would be about 500 miles — more than twice the Colorado River Aqueduct’s length. The cost of building through much more populated land and other complications mean a probable cost of somethimg like $100 billion plus and it would probably take about 12 to 15 years — plus the time it takes to get planning approval which is past experience is anything to go on would probable be another decade or more. And by the way the nature of the project means that there would be no point in starting until the entire route was agreed.

    So if we started out now, it might just be ready by about 2030 — to fix a 2 or 3 year temporary drought problem in 2006.

    Desalination wuld be much more practical and perhaps a bit cheaper, but would probably require a number of new nuclear power plants. Personally I have no special problem with that, but again the time it would take to get approval and build is probably in the order of 20 years — so it might just be coming on stream by 2025 — to fix a 2 or 3 year temporary drought problem in 2006.

    Standpipes? Learn to live with them for a year or two if they end up being necessary. There is no other realistic short-term fix.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    This story isn’t about property rights or any other abstract notion

    Well, the issue of laying down a big pipe stretching from Scotland to the South of England does raise issues of property rights and how to deal with them. I also find it rather bizarre that GCooper treats property as “an abstract notion”: does this mean you think property rights are a legal fiction that can be taken away at will by the State? I certainly would not have expected you to suggest that after reading your comments over the years.

    The way in which water firms were privatised is a legitimate cause for your complaint, however.

  • JEM writes: “… the Scottish Highlands to London would be about 500 miles — more than twice the Colorado River Aqueduct’s length. The cost of building through much more populated land and other complications mean a probable cost of somethimg like $100 billion plus …”

    Now JEM comes over as someone who sounds as if he knows what he is talking about, and my knowledge of civil engineering is nothing to brag about.

    However, at just under £38,000 per foot, I think I must query his estimate. Perhaps he could provide some more deatailed breakdown.

    One thing that does occur to me is that the Colorado river project included building a big dam and hydro-electric power plant. Bearing in mind that the river had to be diverted through a specially build tunnel, that did add somewhat to the costs. Does this have any impact on the equivalence of the project to provide water to the south-east?

    If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but I’d like to know why I’m wrong.

    Best regards

  • zmollusc

    ….just on the topic of laying a pipeline from scotland to the centre of the universe (london) and the difficulties involved in planning permission and compulsory purchase, why not lay the pipe offshore along the seabed? Don’t get too close to the shoreline, though or the pipe may be too expensive in terms of materials.

  • JEM

    Nigel — I feel you may have not noticed that I suggested 100 billion DOLLARS — that gives about $38,000/foot, or something like £20,000/foot.

    In actual fact, this is about in line with typical large diameter pipe projects these days. I don’t claim the price is exact, but it’s in the ball park.

    One thing that does occur to me is that the Colorado river project included building a big dam and hydro-electric power plant. Bearing in mind that the river had to be diverted through a specially build tunnel, that did add somewhat to the costs. Does this have any impact on the equivalence of the project to provide water to the south-east?

    Well yes, when you think about it, you would have to do something similar in this case, otherwise you would lack a reservour to supply the pipeline with water.

    The true financial cost would in real life be much greater, because there weould be no return on investement for two or more decades and meanwhile there is the cost of the money… Reckon on that doubling or trebling the final outlay, by the time you’re finished. Then there the risk…

    Despite what we all like to believe around here, there’s only one entity could ever finance this sort of project, which would make the Channel Tunnel losses shrink to nothing by comparison, and that’s the government, it’s so huge. And utterly cost-ineffective, as I’ve already hinted. In other words, it’s a non-starter. Even the governemnt should be able to see that.

    [I graduated as a civil engineer and later in economics too. I used to work for one of the oil majors on assessing the viability of mega projects.]

  • JEM

    Don’t get too close to the shoreline, though or the pipe may be too expensive in terms of materials

    Sorry, underwater is in general even more expense and certainly longer. And I’m afraid the farther from the shore the more expensive per mile, not less.

  • ian

    The problem in the south east is not especially drought, although that doesn’t help. It is increased demand outstripping increases in supply and our ridiculous habit of using expensively treated drinking water to wash our cars and water the lawn. That in turn comes about because we think water is essentially a free resource – and there ain’t no such thing.

    The huge rate of house building in the South also plays a part. The housebuilders have been allowed to externalise the real cost of providing water and sewage infrastructure, health care etc triggered by the occupants of the houses they build – again because these are seen as something provided by the state as if state provision is free. . .

    Privatisation of water and power hasn’t altered this – it was just a device to line the pockets of the few and buy of the many with lies about a property owning democracy. The real monopolies remain.

  • @JEM: Thanks for the correction of £/$; careless of me.

    Concerning your estimate, what volume of water deliver (say in billions of cubic metres per annum) are we talking about, for your estimated cost for the pipeline. How does this relate to what SE England needs as a buffer against drought?

    Do you have any figures for the cost of the Wales to Birmingham pipeline, which is perhaps more equivalent than the Colorado river stuff, being water-only (I assume) and more recent and in the UK.

    And, for a drought protection measure, is a very big supply-side reservoir necessary. Is there not the equivalent (though less efficient) reservoir in the aquifers of SE England. Just use water from the north as and when it is in ready supply, and during that period, the SE England aquifers will recover somewhat. Your view on this would be appreciated?

    If the costs of the pipeline are greater than that of fixing all the leaking pipes (and is it), why not fix the leaking pipes? Is the problem truly only drought driven? If not, what other solutions (or partial solutions) are in the frame? How often is it acceptable for droughts to occur, requiring such draconian measures (which is, of course a somewhat political question)?

    Finally, for the longer term, is the current suppy situation sustainably adequate, under likely assumptions of population change and any climiate change? What alternative solutions are there, and how do they compare in infrastructure cost per head of increased population.

    [For the the record, I am not a troll to you. You seem to have useful information more readily to hand than me. You also have more training and experience in the particular field. Thanks for what you can do on this in the time you have available. If there is a report on the options on all of this, a reference might be enough.]

    Best regards

  • ian

    A major pipeline connects Keilder Reservoir in Northumberland to Teeside so a significant part of any North South Infrastructure is in place.

    As for reservoirs etc in the South of England I believe there is a tentative proposal for one in the Oxford/Swindon area. I believe also that in Swindon at least the sewage treatment capacity is a greater problem than water supply.

    Leakage is a real problem both physical and economic. I think about 40% of leaks are in the Thames Water area. However these are usually low level seepage from joints rather than major failure. The cost of repair and renewal would be huge – perhaps approaching the figures cited for the N-S pipeline – and the disruption enormous. There is I suppose an upside to these since of course the water does eventually find its way back to the aquifer, albeit at a cost.

    We have got to a position where huge infrastructure investment is needed simply to deal with present problems and the huge population pressure on the SE is likely to make those substantially worse.

    This is a real test of libertarian/free market thinking. It isn’t enough to simply assert that a free market would be better, even though the present system is patently failing. How should a free market be created? How would it work to the benefit of present occupants of the SE? How would it cope with increasing population pressure caused as much by inward movement of people as by births? How can you demonstrate that this would be better than even the current mess

  • Johnathan Pearce

    This is a real test of libertarian/free market thinking. It

    isn’t enough to simply assert that a free market would be better, even though the present system is patently failing. How should a free market be created? How would it work to the benefit of present occupants of the SE? How would it cope with increasing population pressure caused as much by inward movement of people as by births? How can you demonstrate that this would be better than even the current mess

    I don’t think that even at a blog like this, where one gets the feeling of occasionally preaching to the converted, that I should simply assume that the market must be the best solution. What I tried to do is to at least suggest that the state or monopolistic model we have in the UK has some serious leaks (scuse the pun) in it.

    I think that the importance of things like metering is in driving home the point that extracting and supplying water costs money and that those costs should have an effect on things like house prices and help influence economic development. There are reasons why there are not metropolises all over the Middle East and one of them is lack of water. So clearly, if the south of the UK is running dry, that must impose limits of a kind, or encourage new sources of supply. That is the “free market” way of looking at things, if you like.

    I don’t think that it is possible for central planners to really make accurate guesses about all this. There are going to be mistakes made under any system of water supply, although it is surely better to make use of the feedback loops of prices to steer us towards meeting demand and encouraging folk to economise.

    Central planning did not work in the Soviet Union, and I am prepared to stick my neck out and claim that it won’t work too well with water, either.

  • JEM

    Nigel:

    (1) The Colorado River Project delivers approx 50M^3/sec to the Los Angeles Basin. It is just one of several schemes delivering water to greater Los Angeles. To make a Scotland–London project in any way worthwhile it would have to allow for future growth in demand, so a reasonable first guestimate would be about the same flow rate here. To delver that volume with water flowing at 3M/sec (any much more and you’d scour the pipe and cause massive failure) you’d need a pipeline with an internal diameter of about 5M (16.6ft) By way of comparison, the Channel Tunnel Service Tunnel, large enough to accomodate a car or van or London tube train (if any of these were allowed access) has an internal diameter of 4.8M.

    (2) I don’t have any info on the Wales–Birmingham project to hand; I’ll have to dig for that.

    (3) If you’re going to solve the water problem with a Scotland-London pipeline you have to have the water waiting to go when there is a drought. So you need to build dams and flood a few valleys in Scotland… and that will not be agreed to quickly or easily, by the way.

    (By the way, just to fill this pipeline would take 10 day’s water flow…)

    I’m not a water-supply expert, but my understanding is that the acquifiers in the SE are almost empty and that’s the direct cause of the problem,

    (4) If I was made Water Dictator, my first inclination would be (a) increase the income to the water companies* so they could (b) fix the massive leaking which wastes about 25 or 30$ of all the water in the SE and (c) introduce universal water meters on a crash basis — not so much to rase income as to stop waste.

    *When Thatcher privatised water in 1989 the new companies were overregulated to avoid making a huge profit, as it was seen then. The result has been they can’t afford to fix the infrastructure as they should have.

    (5) In the end, I’d bet on nuclear-powered desalination, but please not as an emergency reacion to a short-term blip. Plan and do the job properly!

    And I think global warming is a complete red herring.

  • JEM

    Ian:

    A major pipeline connects Keilder Reservoir in Northumberland to Teeside so a significant part of any North South Infrastructure is in place.

    ‘Fraid not.

    (1) It’s already at full capacity so it can’t take the extra water.

    (2) It’s going in the wrong direction in any case.

    Johnathan:

    I don’t think that it is possible for central planners to really make accurate guesses about all this.

    I quite agree. But neither can anyone else and when you get to such vast projects are this Scotland-London pipeline would be, I’m afraid government involvement is unavoidable: the normal market forces effects of competition and so forth just do not apply. And the cost and the negative cash flow over several decade on such a huge scale make government financing the only possibility.

    However, as I hope I’ve made clear, I don’t think the thing should be built in any case.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    JEM, I agree that a vast Scotland-to-London pipeline might be hard to make work as a purely private venture (assuming it could negotiate the planning and compulsory purchase mazes), which usually suggests that it should not go ahead, full stop. I think though, that there is a need for a sort of strategic fall-back reserve for water in any major industrialised country like ours, and for that reason I am prepared to hold my libertarian nose and accept some form of government involvement. Water supply falls into the same category for me as firefighting, emergency relief, coastal defence and the like. It is a core function of government in protecting life.

    Great discussion, glad to have folk around here who know civil engineering.

  • ian

    So clearly, if the south of the UK is running dry, that must impose limits of a kind, or encourage new sources of supply. That is the “free market” way of looking at things, if you like.

    The problem with is that with major infrastructure projects like this the free market cannot deliver the supply in advance, and once houses are built it is too late. There is almost invevitably a major lag between demand and meeting it.

    I agree however we need major changes – including metering everywhere – and we need cheap and easy ways of retrofitting existing housing to reuse water from baths, dishwashers and washing machines.

  • GCooper

    JEM writes:

    “I gather you know absolutely nothing about the actual scale and cost of major aquaduct projects — which are way up among the most expensive, difficult and time-consuming civil engineering projects in the world.”

    What on earth made you think I was suggesting an aquaduct would be a solution to the current problem? I simply said that one had been built 100 or so years ago as a solution to a problem then, at a time when there was a will to do it. A will which seems completely lacking now.

    I was advocating (and still do) the construction of a piped system. Nothing you’ve written suggests to me this is at all impractical given, as I say, the political will to do it.

    As for how it is financed and planned, I’m inclined to agree with Johnathan Pearece, in that, like it or not, certain basic things require government activity – and it’s hard to think of anything more basic than ensuring a reliable water supply.

  • Isn’t desalination wildly energy-intensive? There are plans to build two desal plants in Australia – a much drier place than the UK as I probably don’t need to tell you – and even in this climate lots of people are baulking at the sheer energy expense of running desalination plants.

    There must be something seriously wrong with catchment and distribution. Surely this could be fixed before infrastructure like desal – more redolent of desert climates – is pondered. It seems ridiculous that a place as wet as the British isles should be pondering desalination.

  • Also, and I hope you’ll pardon an outsider’s ignorance, what’s all this talk of insisting on metering? Don’t you have water meters in residential properties to measure usage for billing? How do those without meters pay for water?

  • GCooper

    James Waterton asks:

    “Also, and I hope you’ll pardon an outsider’s ignorance, what’s all this talk of insisting on metering? Don’t you have water meters in residential properties to measure usage for billing? How do those without meters pay for water?

    Water meters are relatively new to the UK. In the past, water was supplied by what had, usually, once been organisations run by the local council – so we had the council’s ‘rates’ on our property and also ‘water rates’ (as they are still often called) – a fixed annual charge based on the rateable vale of the property in question, for the water supply.

    Under the cack-handed privatisation of water, these local ‘water boards’ as they were known, were sold-off, but their monopolies remained intact.

    For most, metered water is a choice they can make if they think it will save them money. Only in a few areas has water metering been made compulsory and then it is (with the exception of parts of Kent, I believe) only compulsory for newly built houses. I don’t claim to be familiar with the ins and outs of this – but that’s the basic situation in England.

    Water matering has its positive and negative attributes, but remains unpopular with many – not least in view of the £2 billion annual profits being made by water companies – profits which seem to be increasing far faster than the quality of the service provided. These people (and I’m probably in this camp) see water metering as having little to do with supply and a lot to do with extracting even more money from consumers.

  • Thanks to JEM for a lot of useful information.

    There were 2 thoughts in my mind that I don’t think have been adequately dismissed (yet).

    (i) The total amount of water to be piped. The 50 cubic metres per second is enough to provide the total water supply to my house (160 cu. metres last year) 10 million times over. My thoughts were for a much more modest pipeline, sufficient to just about stop drought restrictions from being necessary from time to time. [Note aside. The non-existent civil engineer in me was thinking about say 4 pipes of 1 metre diameter (so proving about 15% of the amount JEM was talking about). I don’t know about the technology of water pipes, but thought that, at 0.79 tonnes/metre when full, such small pipes might require less expensive support than a single 2m diameter pipe, and certainly a lot less than JEM’s 5m diameter pipe.]

    (ii) As mentioned earlier, for a pipeline supporting mainstream suppy from local aquifers, I do not see the need for a supply-head reservoir, or certainly not a very large one. Every drop of water coming down the pipe is water not taken from the local aquifers (which are themselves a sort of reservior). Thus the aquifers would fill up bit by bit, all the time there was no drought, providing more reserve for when droughts occur. [Note aside: I was not thinking of filling/using the pipe from time to time, just during drought, but all the time at a flow level supported by the supply end and sufficient to stop stagnation problems in the pipe.]

    The whole point of all this is to provide more available water during droughts, rather than to provide more water for increased consumption.

    If increased consuption is the issue, and not drought, then what I am thinking about is not an adequate response. This makes it very important to know whether the true underlying problem is unusually severe drought, as the water companies and the government seem to be saying.

    If the water companies and government are not givng the correct or full explanation, that is very bad news for the south-east (but perhaps not much of a surprise).

    In any case, we need a solution to the problem, whatever the cause. Surely analysis of the cause must be fully known and available, and in the public domain, through reports by government on long-term planning. And such plans, surely as far as water is concerned, cannot be subject to national security restrictions. Has anyone found a copy yet?

    Best regards

  • Johnathan Pearce

    GCooper, if I recall, water metering has been around only in new homes for about the last 10 years.

    There are pros and cons, of course, but I think getting the idea into folks’ heads that this stuff has to be priced is worth a lot. It helps educate people on some economic facts of life: ie, resources are scarce.

  • ian

    Nigel Sedgwick

    I’m sure information is available on increased water use and its causes. I will do some digging around.

  • GCooper

    Johnathan Pearce:

    “There are pros and cons, of course, but I think getting the idea into folks’ heads that this stuff has to be priced is worth a lot. It helps educate people on some economic facts of life: ie, resources are scarce.”

    As far as I can see, that scarcity is a myth, usefully promulgated by both the water companies and the Greens, albeit for different reasons.

    There is absolutely no shortage of water in Gt. Britain as a whole – only a temporary shortage in a part of England.

    This could be resolved, either with a national grid approach, or by companies like Thames using some of their excessive priofits to stop leaks.

    As I said yesterday, even the Telegraph agrees – so it’s hardly the thin edge of some socialist wedge.

  • JEM

    What on earth made you think I was suggesting an aquaduct would be a solution to the current problem?

    I think it was something to do with you responding to my:

    The volume and mass of water that would have to be piped south from (say) Scotland sufficient to make a difference would have to be vast compared with any oil or gas pipeline.

    With:

    Nonsense. With very minor infrastructure costs, water is already being diverted from the Medway to the Bewl Water reservoir, to assist. I suggest you do your maths again and pay special attention to the solution Joe Chamberlain achieved for Birmingham (op. cit.) with a mere brick aquaduct over 100 years ago.

    If the flow operates 24hrs per day, 7 days per week and runs Winter and Summer, it’s amazing how much can be shifted down a (comparatively) small pipe.

    No??

  • GCooper

    Jem asks:

    “No??”

    No. I had already said my favoured solution was a pipline. I went on, I thought, to reiterate that belief in the second paragraph, which you quoted.

    The invitation to think of the solution adopted by Birmingham council, was intended to draw attention to the way in which it is political will that is needed to solve this problem and how a brick aquaduct, built 100 years ago, was sufficient to do the job for Britain’s second largest city.

    I remain unconvinced of the vastness of the quantities of water you say are required to make a substantial difference.

    I apologise if I failed to make that sufficiently clear.

  • JEM

    (i) On the total amount of water to be piped: Domestic consumption is, I am told, a minute fraction of the total required. 10%? I’m not sure.

    If we assume that’s so for the sake of this discussion, and the average house has about 2 inhabitants, and there are 20 million people in the affected SE area, and the 160 M^3 you quote is typical, the need is for (would you believe?) almost exactly 50M^3/sec.

    However, as I said before, designing such a system without room for future expansion would be very silly, and as the SE population growa and per capita water consumption grows… a doubling of present capacity — presmably about 50M^3/sec — woud be about correct. So I seem to have sized the pipeline about right. Which is a relief (g). (This is all back-of-the-envelope stuff, as I’m sure you understand.)

    (ii) A large supply-head reservoir is crucial. Without it the pipeline is like to be unable to help during a drought, because there would be no water to deliver — due to the drought.

    If demand keeps growing as people say it will, it’s possible we’ll soon get to the point where the aquifers never fill up.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    As far as I can see, that scarcity is a myth, usefully promulgated by both the water companies and the Greens, albeit for different reasons.

    Scarcity is a myth? Hardly. Economics, according to a widely accepted formulation, is the study of the use of scarce resources that have alternate uses. Water may be plentiful, but the material, time and energy needed to supply to A and B is scarce. That is why it is an issue and why some intelligent economic thinking might not go amiss, rather than snapping one’s fingers like an acquatic czar and demanding instant pipelines by the end of the week.

  • Dubois

    I think we’re all missing the real culprit. The drought, or at least the vast amounts of water Thames Water loses to leaks, is all the fault of the Germans!

    Richard Aylard, External Affairs Director, Thames Water, when answering a questions about leaks (speaking at London Assembly’s Health and Public Services Committee meeting, 16 May 2006):

    “We do know where the worst areas are. They’re in central London, north of the river. A lot of them correlate with bomb damage from the Blitz, where streets were bombed over night and people went out in the blackout and fixed water pipes together as quickly as they could to get supplies back on and nobody went back in 1946 and said let’s do the job properly. Some of those pipes have been leaking for a very long time, that’s why we’re digging up the City.”

  • JEM

    A lot of them correlate with bomb damage from the Blitz, where streets were bombed over night and people went out in the blackout and fixed water pipes together as quickly as they could to get supplies back on and nobody went back in 1946 and said let’s do the job properly.

    Very drole.

    Uhhh… how come the Germans, with far more thoroughtly wrecked cities by 1945 courtesy of the RAF, don’t have these problems now? (At least so far as I know.)

    Can you form the following words into a sentence?

    bottom of … any excuse … scraping the … desperate for … the barrel

  • ian

    Isn’t the fact that they were so worked over the point? – they didn’t repair, they rebuilt (with Marshall aid of course). Plus of course many of the water pipes in London are up to 150 years old.

  • GCooper

    Johnathan Pearce writes:

    ” That is why it is an issue and why some intelligent economic thinking might not go amiss, rather than snapping one’s fingers like an acquatic czar and demanding instant pipelines by the end of the week.”

    Funny – I thought ad hominems were something you took great exception to.

    As for your point about scarcity, I’m content to let people decide for themselves just how scarce water is in this country. I don’t think it needs a great genius to work out where the fault lies: not in the absence of water but in the absence of sense in the way it is delivered.

  • ian

    If there isn’t enough water where you live then it is scarce surely. The fact that there is a world surplus of food doesn’t mean that people in sub-Saharan Africa or in Zimbabwe are not starving. It depends on where you draw the boundary.

  • GCooper

    ian writes:

    ” It depends on where you draw the boundary.”

    A couple of hundred miles in this case. And within the same country.

  • JEM

    Isn’t the fact that they were so worked over the point? – they didn’t repair, they rebuilt (with Marshall aid of course). Plus of course many of the water pipes in London are up to 150 years old.

    We got Marshall Plan money too but the Labour government at the time spent most on nationalising the health system rather than fixing the infrastructure.

    And I don’t know how old typical German water systems are, but I bet many are as old as London. After all a clean pure water system sound like a very German thing to want. And by way of a check on German versus British social infrastructival innovations, Bismarck introduced national old age pensions and health insurance there about 30 years before it happened here.

  • Blaming one’s current problems on something that happened 60 years ago is entirely pointless.

    Let’s get back to the issue.

    Best regards

  • Kim du Toit

    The general resistance to water-metering is through ignorance. The best way to allay fears of “gouging” is to go with the Chicago model: you get x gallons of water per month per household for a nominal sum of about $15 (and it’s a substantial amount, easily enough for all cooking, bathing and sanitation needs for a family), but anything over the “allowance” gets billed.

    So the gardeners and car-washers pay for their usage (and believe me, nothing works to curtail usage as well as billing does).

    Chicago has literally limitless supplies of fresh water — Lake Michigan — coupled with decent rain- and snowfall, and you still have to pay for your water.

    The idea of “free” delivered potable water is a totally alien one to Americans. Hence the large number of houses with wells, especially the further out you go from the cities and suburbs.

    As the old joke goes: “If you want free water, set out a rainbarrel and hope there’s no drought.”