...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Day 2001: Water Water Everywhere…


"…on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened…"

It is June in England so it is time for that traditional RAIN MAKING CEREMONY, the British Lawn Tennis Association Open played in WIMBLEDON.

We normally find Wimbledon VERY annoying because of the way that it interrupts all the normal television schedules. But this year, the schedules has already been smashed to flinders by the World Cup so frankly, who is going to notice!

What is it about the BBC Sport department that makes them think that they have sole rights over what anyone else can broadcast? Fair enough, when an important match or game or rounder is running over, you do not want to cut away then – but if you have ALREADY overrun your time, should it not be the boring post bout CHIT CHAT that is the first thing to get CUT? Apparently not.

So anyway, BBC Watersports turned on their cameras and OBVIOUSLY the heavens opened. (That means that it started raining, not that it was early doors at a nightclub!)

Meanwhile, under the Earth there are rumblings from the springs of the deep as London's water table is quickly rising.

Hundreds of years ago, London was almost floating like Venice! The water from the North Downs and the Chiltern Hills gets trapped and held in a layer of CHALK between the STRATA of London Clay and Gault Clay under the city and it fills up like a BOWL OF WATER. The capital was SO full of water that the fountains in Trafalgar Square used to be fed by GROUND LEVEL springs!

Over the years of the VICTORIAN age, though, factories in London were allowed to sink BORE HOLES into the ground and SLURP up the water they needed for their business. And this made the water table go down and down until it had retreated to a depth of 80 to 100 metres below the surface.

Since the 1960's though, factories have been moving OUT of the city and with less water being taken from the bore holes, the water table is quickly FILLING UP again. In some places it is now back to between 40 and as little as 10 metres under the surface.

For the London UNDERGROUND, this is a BIT of problem. A lot of their DEEP tunnels were dug in the early 20th Century, in the period when the water table had gone down very low and was still falling. But now it is filling up again… They have to pump 30 MILLION litres of water out of their system EVERY DAY, because their tubes are not equipped to turn into SUBMARINES!

(If it wasn't all horrid from being contaminated by the stuff in the ground that would be enough for over 200,000 people's average daily use!)

And it's not just the tube: tall buildings have deep foundations and it the water keeps rising, they might start to, er, WOBBLE.

So with London awash with water above and below, there is NO CHANCE of a drought this year… oh very fluffy dear.

Still, at least the water companies continue to roll in the profits.

They must be laughing like drains! (Ho very ho.)

At this point, Daddy Richard feels compelled to put his ACCOUNTANT hat on as point out that rebuilding their pipes is probably counted as CAPITAL expenditure and so not included in the costs in the PROFIT statements.

Maybe so, but the companies still have to hand out great wodges of cash to their SHAREHOLDERS, or else their share price will collapse and they will be bought up for peanuts by dodgy companies. Or the French.

The PROFIT figure on its own is a VERY BAD way to judge the performance of a company. You need to look at the CASH that the business is generating and how much of that cash is being REINVESTED as opposed to given out as dividends

This is the FLAW in the privatisation model. The need for SHORT TERM cash. The plus side of this is that it drives companies to be efficient and innovative; the minus side is that it makes long term investment a BAD IDEA. The quick fix solution will always be the preferred answer.

(It's not like this is original – the Victorians themselves had a habit of just sticking a roof over a problem and hoping that meant it had gone away – where do you think THE EMBANKMENT came from?)

Most of the rest of the country has plenty of water. It is only in the south-east where there are too many people and far too many houses being built that there is a problem. Everyone else will probably have a GOOD LAUGH when something fairly BIBLICAL happens to London and we all disappear into a SWAMP or something.

Maybe now would be a good time for me to learn to SWIM!

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