ANOTHER VIEW: A drop of realism

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The Independent Online
The pipes, sewers and treatment works serving this country suffered years of under-investment. Then along came privatisation with the mission to put all that right, along with the wherewithal to raise the money to do it.

Critics called it selling off the family silver - but it was more like off-loading its junk, to be turned into something our industry and its customers could be proud of.

In six years we have come a long way, but surely common sense alone would prevent anybody from thinking that 50 years of neglect can be completely fixed in six years - and yet that does seem to be the expectation.

The perilous drought situation we find ourselves in masks (for the moment) all the achievements of the water companies - some of the best drinking water in the world, cleaner beaches and seas than for many a year, and the cleanest rivers (here in Yorkshire at least) since before the Industrial Revolution.

That is where the money has gone - two- thirds of all our profits, shareholders' money and a lot more besides raised in the City, as well as the customers' share, with their slowly rising bills. So far, water quality has been a legal priority for us, and Yorkshire people are drinking the benefits daily.

At the same time, however, we have spent many tens of millions of pounds replacing those encrusted and decaying water mains, some of which are working relics of the Victorian era. They still work, and that's remarkable enough - but they do leak. Add in Yorkshire's special characteristics of old hillside towns where acidic water has to be pumped at high pressure, and it adds up to a problem.

We have voluntarily put pounds 45m into this area so far and pounds 11m a year is now devoted to reducing leakage. This enables the company to mend the leaks just about as quickly as they are detected. We have made considerable progress, with a realistic further target of 15 million gallons a day saved (equivalent to the output of a decent-sized reservoir) well in sight.

Impressive figures, but the fact is that it hasn't rained and our reservoirs are emptying fast. This is truly an exceptional year, the like of which comes round barely once in a lifetime, and thank goodness.

Anger is perhaps the total of some of Yorkshire Water's customers' feelings right now and that is understandable. But while they might be angry they must face reality - Yorkshire Water has done what it can and we must all now cut our demand in order to avoid further restrictions. Perhaps that reality will, for the time being at least, put the political arguments into perspective.

The writer is group public relations manager for Yorkshire Water.