I’m typing this with the sun on my back and mating dragonflies dancing over the water of our reservoir at my feet. A family of geese watch resentfully as I take their favoured spot on the boardwalk. With no significant rain in six weeks, my feet are now dangling above the water; last week, they would have been submerged, nibbled by the last metamorphosing tadpoles before they leave the water to search for slugs in our strawberries.
Recent thunderstorms have largely missed the South West. Almost as significant as the lack of rain has been a month of dry easterly winds, mercilessly sucking water from leaves. The gentle, rain-giving westerly winds which normally dominate, bringing humid air off the sea, seem to be another unexpected casualty of climate change. We have already started rationing water according to need and value, with late artichokes being abandoned and cabbages having a restricted supply.
It costs about £3 per cubic metre to build a clay-lined reservoir that is filled in winter, for use in summer. By most reasonable accounting, that suggests an annual cost of about 60p per cubic metre of water. Pennon Group, our monopoly-wielding local water company, charges £1.93 per cubic metre for a restricted supply of water, plus an additional £3.23 per cubic metre for associated sewage treatment.
Obviously they have pipes to maintain and so on – but since they were privatised 30 years ago, the UK’s sewage-spilling water companies have paid out a staggering £72 billion in dividends, and not built a single reservoir. Perhaps naively, I thought dividends were paid out of profits, having made provision for necessary investments – but Pennon Group proudly boasts about its policy of increasing dividends annually by two per cent ahead of inflation, regardless of sewage spills, leaking pipes and hose pipe bans. This is jaw-droppingly insensitive to those of us vomiting after swimming in the River Dart.
With a little imagination and good design, reservoirs can add hugely to biodiversity and even be used to reduce flood risk. Ours also offer welcome swimming for co-owners and close neighbours. When veg picking is finished in the afternoon, the geese will have to contend with an ever-changing group swimming, diving and chilling on the banks. And having got all hot and bothered about capitalist economics, it is time for a swim myself.
You can sign Surfers against Sewage’s petition with a list of demands to demand action from water companies here.