From what we heard earlier this week, it appears that because of recent rainfall, the immediate crisis has been postponed into the new year. However, no one knows what rain will come later this year, in the winter or even next summer, and the debate gives us an important opportunity to establish clearly what our priorities should be for the water industry in the future.
First and foremost, it must be clearly stated that water supply must be guaranteed, at whatever cost to the shareholders of any water company. Water must come to homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. Proposals to restrict the supply are unacceptable.
This is not a national crisis, because there is no national shortage of water. It is a local issue; water does not happen to have fallen in the places where the water companies traditionally predict that it will. The problem is therefore one involving the supply system rather than general drought conditions. It has been caused by the lack of a national grid and the lack of action to deal with leakage. These are the consequences of a century of under-investment in the water industry, and privatisation has for the first time brought large-scale investment into that industry. The problem we face is that, until now, investment has been focused on other important priorities such as improving water quality, dealing with sewage and improving the quality of rivers. Money has not been invested in the basic issue of guaranteeing the supply of water to consumers.
Weather patterns are very variable, and they are becoming increasingly unpredictable. We cannot rely on rain falling in the Pennines over the summer in a way that will guarantee water supplies to the homes that depend upon it, and Leeds is every bit as much at risk as Bradford, Halifax or any other area. We must ensure that a system is in place that will ensure water supplies to all, whatever the local conditions may be. Tankers are not the solution, as they cause havoc on the roads. Increased extraction from rivers has an enormous knock-on effect on wildlife, and we should be carefully monitoring that effect already.
Frankly, the priorities which have been established for the water industry need to be reassessed. Obviously, we want to improve the quality of our drinking water and the purity of water in our rivers, but first and foremost we must be able to deliver water to homes, schools, businesses and hospitals.