John Bailey: Anglian Water, and how they earned my apologies

Paul Naylor shows just some of the technology used by Anglian Water to take us into the future Pictu

Paul Naylor shows just some of the technology used by Anglian Water to take us into the future Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I'm a passionate angler and I'm like you in defending our venues, our rivers especially, to the death.

John Bailey playing a grayling on the river Test where a day’s fishing can cost more than a week in

John Bailey playing a grayling on the river Test where a day’s fishing can cost more than a week in Spain Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Probably like you, too, I am wary of large corporations, fearing that they are autocratic, remote, uncaring and careless of our resources and our best interests. I've long thought Anglian Water fitted this description down to their last drop. In articles I have hinted that the need to satisfy shareholders has held back much-needed investment. I have aired my darkest suspicions because we all enjoy a conspiracy theory or two.

What about polluted groundwater I have wondered? Cover-ups? Massaged statistics? Leaking, Victorian pipework and a scandalous waste of water when we need every glassful? When Anglian Water contacted me direct with an invitation to get myself down to the Norwich Heigham Street works and see for myself, I was dubious. I don't like to think I am one to be smooched, but I felt on balance I should hear their side of the water story. I'm glad that I did.

During four exhaustive hours, I was shown around the water treatment works by Paul Naylor, Anglian Water's Regional Supply Manager. Most of the detail, and there was a lot, was way over my head, but I got the gist. First up, there is massive investment going into the safeguarding of our water supply and the future of our river Wensum. It seems AW's investors are nothing like the rapacious lot I thought them to be. Nor had I known that our tap water goes through a 10-, or is it 11-stage, treatment before it slips between our parched lips. That murky old Wensum stuff is dosed with ozone, iron salts, granular activated carbon, chlorine and put through the new ultrafiltration membrane plant until it comes out purer, safer and tastier than the most expensive bottled water on the shelves.

That was good enough for me, but what I had not expected was the commitment, dedication and expertise that Paul showed. He is as as much in love with the Wensum and all our rivers as we anglers are, if possible even more so. Paul, and everyone I spoke to there, had water running through their very veins. Not one of them is content to talk about the millions they are spending now. They want to talk about the future, about how to eliminate leaks, how to care for the aquifer, how to ensure the aquatic environment and our water supply are both safe forever, whatever development and climate change throw at us. Believe me, I came away humbled, my views transformed.

The beautiful grayling..but slippery fish to hold!Picture: John Bailey

The beautiful grayling..but slippery fish to hold!Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Of course, Paul couldn't answer every mystery I put to him. I still have no easy answer as to why all our upper rivers are shrinking, visibly, year on year. Abstraction one way or another has to be a culprit but then again, we hardly help ourselves. I noticed, for example, that according to AW's figures each household that they supply has around 2.2 or so occupants. In the Spanish village where I have a house you can double, nearly treble that number. Stronger family values would save us water for sure. And how come you and I use 137 litres of water a day whereas our Danish friends make do on 80 litres? That is massive and I have spent the time since seeing Paul analysing how I can cut down and save my rivers. I have showered not bathed. I have googled smart hosepipes for the spring. I shut off the tap as I brush my teeth. We use the dishwasher once at night on a short cycle using 9 litres - far better than washing every cup, plate and teaspoon as we go. I fill my mug with water and pour it into the kettle before boiling now, far less wasteful than simply sploshing water in randomly. I didn't take my old Disco to the car wash as normal this week figuring it will only get dirtier as the winter progresses so what's the point other than vanity? Blimey, I think I'm even showing the Danes a thing or two and I haven't even embarrassed you with my new toilet flushing regimes.

All this talk of water conservation might seem irrelevant after an autumn's wetness second only to Noah's, but high as the rivers are, only even more rain will serve to fill the aquifers before springtime comes around again. Work this last week took me down to the river Test near Andover. I talked with the river keepers and in their long memories, the Test has not altered greatly in depth or flow rates. But perhaps the clue lies in the very words "river keepers". The estate where we are going to film has four miles of river fishable in May at £600 per rod per day. This sum means every yard of bank, every fish, every cup full of water can be looked after by one of the three river keepers that the anglers' money can pay for. Compare that with East Anglia. How many riparian owners on the Wensum or Waveney make a bean from their fishing rights, never mind over £2,000 per day in high season? I'm not even sure there is a single paid river keeper in our entire region, come to that. Anything that does get done hereabouts is down to salt of the earth volunteers or a few bods at the understaffed Environment Agency.

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So there we are. Thanks to Paul and his team, I really think we can rest assured Anglian Water are securing us a great water supply for the future. As to the state of our beloved rivers, we might have to look very much more deeply.