A £250million emergency drought plant built by Thames Water may have been closed due to “the cost of electricity”, a local MP has said.
The Beckton desalination plant in east London has been promised as a major reserve of drinking water to cope with drier British summers – but in a summer that has already seen the hottest temperatures on record, it is out of use.
Desalination plants turn sea water into fresh water using a process called reverse osmosis and are energy intensive, requiring both electricity and heat.
According to Thames Water, the plant costs around £660 per million liters to operate, compared to £45 per million liters for a standard plant.
Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham, questioned whether the closure was because ‘they are unwilling to pay and manage’.
He said The Telegraph: ‘It seems confusing to me while it is clear that we are in a situation which is exactly the kind of situation where this plant was supposed to help us, it seems very strange that it is out of order.
“If it’s scheduled maintenance, surely you’re planning a time other than when it’s most likely to be used?”
“Is it because of the cost of electricity and they just aren’t willing to pay and run it?” In this case obviously, they should tell us.
The Beckton desalination plant (pictured) in east London has been promised as a major reserve of drinking water to cope with drier British summers
Aerial view of the parched fields surrounding the village of Abbotsbury in Dorset where the grass has been scorched by the scorching sun and lack of rain during summer drought conditions
Thames Water said its Gateway water treatment plant, also known as the Beckton plant, was “out of service” due to “necessary planned works”.
The plant, which was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 2010, is the only one in the UK designed to turn salt seawater into fresh water.
He said that regardless of the current operational state of the plant, short-term garden hose bans would still be needed to limit water use.
The plant was originally planned in 2004, but only received approval in 2008. When completed in 2010, it was used to fill London’s reservoirs during droughts, but questions remain as to whether it was ever fully operational.
It was originally marketed as being able to deliver an additional 150 million liters of water per day – but this has now been revised down by a third to 100 million.
A Thames Water insider said The Telegraph the water company hoped to cut operating costs by placing the plant on an estuary, meaning the fresh water from the Thames would dilute the salt in the seawater.
Thames Water said its Gateway water treatment plant, also known as the Beckton plant, was “out of service” due to “necessary planned works”. Pictured: Parched fields in Dorset
Stephen Timms (above), MP for East Ham, questioned whether the closure was because ‘they are unwilling to pay and run it’
But it didn’t take into account the different salinity levels at different times of the day, which means it can’t produce a constant supply of clean water.
No date has been set for the recommissioning of the plant, and four subsequent desalination plants originally planned by Thames Water have seen no significant progress.
In the absence of plant capabilities, Thames Water will have to rely on customers to reduce their water consumption.
He has already told billpayers to let their grass turn brown and their cars get dirty – and a garden hose ban is expected to be badly needed in the capital.
A Thames Water spokesperson said: ‘Our Gateway Water Treatment Works, more commonly known as our desalination plant in Beckton, east London, was completed in 2010 for use primarily during dry weather events and not to meet the day-to-day running of the business.
“Since then, we have used Gateway during dry spells to help keep our London reservoirs as full as possible, while continuing to meet growing customer supply demands.
A woman walks through dried brown grass on a sunny day on Blackheath Common
“It has the capacity to deliver up to 100 million liters of water per day and we have recently carried out maintenance work on various areas of the plant and tested it at this maximum flow rate.
“Due to other planned works required, the plant is currently out of service. Our teams are working as quickly as possible to have it ready for use early next year, to protect our supplies should we have another dry winter.
“However, even if the water treatment works at Gateway were operational this summer, we would still not rule out the use of temporary use bans as part of the next stage of our regional drought plan, due to weather patterns we’ve seen this year and customer levels. use.
“We know that future pressures on water will require greater capacity to cope with projected population growth, climate change, greater drought protection and the need to increase our protection from the environment where we abstain.”
“We plan for 50 years to make sure we build the right options and also continue to reduce leaks and install customer meters.
“As part of this long-term planning, we currently have no other desalination plants under construction, but we are looking at domestic transfers and reservoirs to support the southeastern region.”
It comes as gardeners are encouraged to confront or snitch on their neighbors if they see them repeatedly breaking garden hose bans – with rule breakers facing fines of up to £1,000 if they do. are brought to justice.
The Met Office said southern England had its driest July since records began in 1836
A garden hose ban affecting one million people in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight came into effect at 5pm yesterday – as the Met Office warned of ‘very little significant rain’ on the horizon for the parched regions of England.
Southern Water began the ‘temporary use ban’ yesterday – a week before the start of South East Water restrictions for Kent and Sussex, covering 2.2 million people. The 85,000 people on the Isle of Man have been banned since last Friday.
Now Welsh Water has also announced restrictions for 200,000 customers in Pembrokeshire and a small part of Carmarthenshire from August 19 – with the company blaming the driest conditions since the 1976 drought.
In Southern Water’s advice on what to do if you notice a neighbor breaking the ban, the company advises: “If you notice a neighbour, family or friend, in the affected areas, using water for restricted activities, please gently remind him of the restrictions. up and direct them to our website for more information.
But a Southern Water spokesperson added: “If you see someone repeatedly breaking the restrictions, please let us know through our customer service team. A fine of up to £1,000 can be imposed for any breach. Our approach is one of education rather than application. We would like to thank all of our customers for their support of these restrictions.
Any fines should be imposed by the courts. Current restrictions cover the use of a garden hose to water a garden, clean a vehicle or wash windows. They also include the filling of a paddling pool, a domestic pond or an ornamental fountain. The ban does not impose restrictions on essential and commercial uses of water, such as commercial window cleaners and car washes, or businesses that require water for their operations, such as zoos.
South East Water has told customers that if they see a neighbor using a garden hose or sprinkler during the ban from next Friday, they should “contact us via www.southeastwater.co.uk/tubs so that we can check to see if any exemptions are in place and take appropriate action if your neighbor is knowingly or unknowingly ignoring the restrictions in place.” It also has a “dedicated temporary use ban line” on 0333 000 0017.
Some 17million more people in other parts of England could soon be hit with further bans after Thames Water and South West Water both warned they may soon have to impose restrictions – which would affect 15million customers in London and the Thames Valley, and around two million in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset.
This would mean a total of 20.5 million people could be affected by water use restrictions in England. As it stands, the number of people under ban is 1.1 million, which will increase to 3.3 million next Friday.