MINISTERS have blocked plans to export Scottish water to England to deal with shortages in a scheme once championed by Boris Johnson.
Sir James Bevan, chief executive at the Environment Agency covering England, said last year that Scotland could provide the answer to England’s H2O woes, with the southern half of the UK predicted to run out of fresh water in less than 30 years.
He said England was staring into the “jaws of death”, where the ever-growing population surpasses the falling supply of water.
Climate change meant that people should cut their water use by a third, half of all leaking pipes must be repaired, and huge new reservoirs, treatment plants and transport pipes built if England is to continue quenching its thirst, he said.
In 2014, a bold proposal to tackle water shortages in Britain’s southern counties by building a vast “super canal” between the two countries was being considered by both the UK and Scottish governments.
It came after Mr Johnson championed the idea of Scotland helping England out with water.
The plans, devised by one of the world’s biggest architectural and engineering design firms, envisaged a new £14 billion waterway running from the Scottish Borders down through Newcastle and Leeds, winding its way along the west coast of England and taking in extra water on its way.
Known as the Natural Grid, it would eventually branch off as it reached the Home Counties, with routes running down into Hertfordshire and Hampshire to supply homes, businesses and utilities.
The company behind the canal project, Aecom, suggests an initial starting point of the northern Pennines, with the canal eventually extended north to begin its journey in the Southern Uplands.
The plans were presented to David MacKay, chief scientific advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and had been under consideration.
At the time the Scottish Government indicated support for the idea of exporting some of Scotland’s water supplies to the south.
But ministers have made now made it clear that any plan is now pie in the sky.
“Whilst Scotland has a relative abundance of fresh water compared to an increasing number of parts of the world that are becoming water stressed due to population growth and climate factors, there are no current plans to export water to England or internationally,” said a Scottish Government spokesman.
“Ministers are aware of the supply challenges in some countries, including in south-east England, and the growing concerns about the need for water utilities in England to take action to ensure continuity of supply in water-stressed areas in the future.
“However, previous analysis suggests the sale or transfer of water from Scotland to England – most likely by bulk shipping raw water or via pipelines – would not be economically viable at this time. However, the Scottish Government will keep the issue under review.
“The Scottish Government is instead committed to making Scotland a ‘Hydro Nation’ where water resources are developed so as to bring the maximum benefit to the Scottish economy. As a Hydro Nation, our approach internationally is to support other countries to get the most from their own water resources by reaching out to the world to share our academic excellence and expertise in water governance and water management technology.”
In 2012, the government offered to provide water for drought-hit areas in the south of England.
But ministers admitted at the time that there were huge logistical issues to be overcome before it could happen.
Boris Johnson, who was London’s mayor at the time said water could be exported to the south of England via a series of canals.
It was based on a plan first proposed in 1942 by J F Pownall.
Mr Johnson suggested a canal could be built along a natural ‘contour’ down the spine of England, around the 300ft (100m) level, from the Scottish borders to the south east.
He believed there was an obvious solution to use the rain from the mountains to tackle water shortages in drier UK areas.
And he had been in touch with Prof Roger Falconer of Cardiff University, and both believed a possible solution could be to move water via rivers and canals.
It has further emerged that in the summer of 2018, Scottish Water moved to insist that there was “currently no water supplies being diverted, piped or channelled to England from Scotland” by the publicly owned utility.
Questions were raised after ministers said in January, 2017 that an increase in exports to the rest of the UK was driven by utilities such as electricity – largely from renewables – as well as “gas and water”, with petroleum and chemical products contributing to the growth in EU exports.
At that point Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK continued to be worth four times more than its exports to the EU.
Figures showed at that point the country sold £49.8bn to the rest of the UK in 2015 – £2.1bn more than the previous year.
Exports to the EU rose by £520m to a total of £12.3bn.
Both figures represented a 4.4% increase on the previous year.
Scottish Water on being quizzed over the apparent water export said: “Scottish Water do not provide public water supplies to anywhere in England.”
It added: “We do not control all of the water in Scotland – only those river, lochs and reservoirs that we hold authorisation from the SEPA [Scottish Environment Protection Agency] to allow us to abstract for the purposes of public water supplies.
In response to Sir James Bevan’s call for Scottish water, Peter Murphy, director of consultancy firm UK Water said: “Loch Ness has more water than all of England and Wales combined. And that’s just one loch – Scotland has more than 31,000 freshwater lochs, and most are unused.
“Scotland has a small population and has about 100 times more water than it uses. The country’s hydrological cycle is only going to improve – climate change means Scotland is going to get warmer, and therefore wetter.
“Scotland’s population will probably increase too, but we should all be thinking about investment and opportunity. Scotland lends itself to water collection – rerouting water to England would cost less than HS2. There’s a lot of short-sightedness.”
By 2040, Britain is forecasted to be regularly enduring summers hotter than the 2003 heatwave, which Sir James Bevan said will leave the country with 50-80 per cent less water in some rivers.
While in England, water companies committed to cut leakage by 50 per cent by 2050 – some experts say itcould be too late.
The Environment Agency in England had proposed building new reservoirs and distribution chains in order to maintain an adequate supply, others believe there needs to be alternative solutions, and bolder plans are required.