From: Jim Armitage, Evening Standard, London
Published November 11, 2004 12:00 AM

Thames Water Splashes out Millions in Contracts on Making Estuary Fit to Drink

Nov. 11—British engineers have picked up tens of millions of pounds' worth of contracts in an unusual scheme to build a vast emergency desalination plant to turn salty Thames estuary water into drinking water.

Consultancy group Interserve expects business worth 50 million pounds to come from its role in assembling the plant for Thames Water, which will supply up to 900,000 London homes in the event of a drought.

Thames Water is worried supplies could run out and, as desalination technology develops, the method has become far cheaper. Costs have fallen 4 percent annually in recent years, making it an increasingly viable option.

"With more people moving to London and climate change, we expect there will be higher demand for water in the future," said a spokesman.

Alongside Interserve, Atkins Water, a division of infrastructure group WS Atkins, has picked up a large chunk of the servicing work for the 200 million pounds project.

The main desalination expertise will be provided by Spain's Pridesa, which has built more than 50 similar plants around the world. Like Thames Water, Pridesa is a subsidiary of German utilities giant RWE.

Construction is expected to start early in the New Year, depending on approval from Newham Borough Council, which could discuss the project next month.

A pilot project has been in operation on the site in Beckton for the past year.

"If we get the council's permission, we'll go out on the streets and see if people are happy with the test water," said a spokesman.

The desalinated water would be pumped to the company's reservoir in Woodford, Essex, for use in homes in northeast London.

The Thames Gateway region is being earmarked by the Government for major development to provide homes for newcomers to the capital. Thames Water managing director John Sexton has warned that London could run out of water within a decade.

He wants the Ofwat regulator's pricing review to allow him to increase rates to invest in updating the city's Victorian water infrastructure.

Some 925 million litres of the 2.5 billion litres Thames Water pumps into the mains every year are lost through leaks and the situation is getting worse.

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© 2004, Evening Standard, London. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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