Thames Water ‘closed emergency drying facilities to save money’

Written by Javed Iqbal

Thames Water may have close an emergency drying facility to save on electricity costs, the local MP has said.

The desalination plant in Beckton, east London, has been switched off despite the lack of water and a looming snake ban, the Telegraph revealed earlier this week.

The first hose ban comes into force today for people living in parts of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight which are supplied by Southern Water.

South East Water, which supplies parts of Kent and Sussex, will introduce a snake ban affecting 1.3 million people from next Friday and Welsh Water has also announced a ban covering parts of west Wales.

George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, is believed to be on annual leave in his constituency of Cornwall rather than in Westminster, which the drought crisis intensified.

A spokesman said on Friday afternoon: “George Eustice is in his constituency of Camborne and Redruth but has been liaising with Defra policy officials regarding the drought conditions and held a meeting with the policy team at 11am this morning.”

Thames waterworkswhich is designed to take water from the Thames estuary and process it to create drinking water, is out of service for maintenance, despite being included by the company in drought plans submitted to the Environment Agency earlier this year.

Desalination is energy-intensive and requires both electricity and heat. Electricity costs have increased by around 50 percent since last year.

‘Very strange that it is out of order’

The plant costs more than ten times to run than a standard treatment plant, the company said, at around £660 per million liters compared to £45 per million liters for a standard plant.

Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham, said: “It seems puzzling to me that when we are clearly in a situation which is exactly the kind of situation that this plant was meant to help us, it seems very strange that it is out of service.

“If it’s planned maintenance, then surely you plan a different time than it’s most likely to be used?

“Is it because of the cost of electricity on it and they’re just not willing to pay and run it? If so, of course they should tell us.”

In its draft drought plans, which outline how the company plans to cope with low water supplies, Thames Water admitted the plant could only cope with two-thirds of its planned capacity.

The facility has only been operated intermittently during the last 10 years of its life, including in 2016 and 2018.

It has now completely ceased operation and will not be available to help with water supplies this summer as the south east of Britain faces rapidly depleting water levels amid continued dry weather.

The capacity issues are believed to be due to the facility’s location on the estuary, and the varying salt levels that come with it.

High flows of more than 100 million per day through the facility produced water with too much sediment, reducing the effectiveness of the disinfection process.

In documents published earlier this year, the company said “demand management”, including a push for household water meters, public awareness of water-saving measures and leakage management, would make up for the lost capacity.

Current maintenance is focused on fixing pipes and electrical systems, the company said, as part of a planned £34m project.

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Javed Iqbal

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