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Can Kent really be running out of water after a few hot days?
Plus our MPs go missing, some awards news for us, and more
Editor’s note: Welcome to a slightly briefer than usual Friday news roundup. Briefer because I’ve been away for the week, including a few days in Manchester, where I’m currently writing this from. It has allowed me to check in with one of the biggest inspirations for Local Authority as I got to visit the offices of The Mill. It was great to meet a team so passionate about doing local news better and gave me lots to ponder for Local Authority. Elsewhere, in the time I’ve been away, Local Authority has found itself as a finalist for a couple of awards, but more on that later. We’ve also got some big announcements coming up on Monday, so be sure to stick with us for those. Ed.
What’s going on with Southern Water?
Given the subject of this publication, it seems likely that the vast majority of readers will be customers of Southern Water.
Last week, customers of the company received an email that bordered on the apocalyptic because people in Kent were apparently using too much water:
This week the demand for water has been extremely high in Kent and this is putting pressure on supplies.
We know when it’s hot it can be hard to save water as we all need to stay hydrated, keep our plants healthy and help the kids cool down. If water demand remains high and the hot, dry weather continues this may mean we will struggle to treat and supply your water fast enough to keep up with demand.
Please help us by using as little water as you can throughout the hot weather so we can make sure there’s enough to go around and avoid restrictions later in the summer.
It was accompanied by a graphic setting out just how dire the situation is:
Now, as charts go, that is quite a leap in usage. You can probably already figure out why though. 10 and 11 June were the days when temperatures approached 30 degrees in Kent for the first time this year, and while things have cooled a little since then, they have remained high.
So people are using more water in the middle of the year as temperatures reach their peaks. Which doesn’t exactly seem like a surprise.
Yet for some reason, it’s spooked Southern Water enough for them to beg us to use less water.
What’s going on?
Presumably, water levels must be running low for this kind of request to have reached us. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Bewl Water in southern Kent is the primary reservoir for supplying Kent, and the water level there seems to be rather good. While water levels were seriously struggling last autumn, good winter and spring rainfall have resulted in the reservoir currently operating at 98% of capacity, above the usual 90% or so for this time of year.
Southern Water makes it clear that only 7% of its water supply comes from reservoirs, so there could well be problems elsewhere.
The vast majority of supply comes from groundwater supplies, and here the picture is slightly more unclear. The only data that the company publishes is from Thanet, but that data shows levels at a higher level than at any time in 2022, but lower than the previous year's peaks.
The Environment Agency publish more specific local data, which appears to show a similar picture overall. Supplies were severely depleted by the end of last year, but have recovered substantially.
This tracks with the rainfall data, which shows a significantly above-average level of rain over the past year, with just February and the summer months letting the side now.
With all of this data, it remains unclear exactly why Southern Water went into a panic over water usage last week. Certainly, none of us should be using water frivolously and we should do what we need to try to conserve any natural resources. But equally, the company should hardly be surprised if people start using more water on sweltering days. If they can’t deal with that situation, it does start to raise questions about how the company prepares for unusual situations.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising given the company recently admitted that it didn’t know how much sewage it was discharging onto beaches in Kent. In 2021, the company ejected sewage for 160,000 hours and showed no indication of slowing down last year.
Our MPs go missing again
This week, the excruciatingly long saga of the fall of Boris Johnson reached a climax, with MPs voting overwhelmingly to accept the report of the Privileges Committee into the Partygate scandal and establishing that the former Prime Minister repeatedly lied on the issue.
MPs voted 354 to 7 in favour of the report, though it was notable how many Conservative MPs didn’t vote at all.
By this point, long-time readers will likely know where this is going.
All three of our Medway MPs didn’t turn up to vote.
Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti, Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch, and Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst were all nowhere to be seen in the voting lobbies, deciding to sit the vote out.
None of them has made any kind of public comment on the matter, seemingly all adopting a strategy of keeping their heads down and hoping the whole matter goes away.
With a General Election on the horizon and the Conservatives continuing to struggle in the polls, it’ll be interesting to see how effective that strategy might be.
Covid in numbers
Hospitalisations: There is currently 1 patient in Medway Hospital with covid, with none on a ventilator. This is the lowest figure since July 2021.
Deaths: No new deaths were recorded this week, keeping Medway at 1,035 covid deaths in total.
Vaccinations: 67% of those eligible for a spring booster have now received one.
Shameless awards news
We’re honoured to be one of four finalists for Kent News Website of the Year at this year’s Kent Press & Broadcast Awards. Awards are an inherently silly concept, but it’s difficult not to be taken in a little bit when your work is recognised by others in the field.
Elsewhere, our very own Steven Keevil is also a finalist for Kent Columnist of the Year following an impressive year of varied investigations and interviews. We’ll be at the full awards ceremony next month, but it’s truly thrilling to be listed here among some of the best journalism in Kent.
It still feels surreal that what, in a way, started as a citizen journalism project eight years ago has morphed into an actual proper news outlet for Medway. There's still much for us to do, but we're so proud to have made it this far and we can’t wait to see what comes next.
💰 Medway Council’s financial reserves have fallen to almost zero following years of overspending. Reserves have fallen from nearly £27m last year to just over £10m (the minimum amount required) this year.
🚌 All bus services in Medway (and Kent as a whole) this weekend are free as part of a government-supported scheme. It’s also Kent Big Weekend, so if you scored any free tickets to attractions in Kent, you can supposedly get there for free on the bus.
🚄 New rail strikes have been announced for July. The RMT will strike on 20, 22, and 29 July as part of their ongoing dispute with train operators and the government.
Paid supporters of Local Authority receive extra editions of the newsletter every week. This week, we published an interview with creative practitioner Natasha Boardman-Steer on finding your own voice, the importance of creativity to health and well-being, and exactly what makes someone a creative practitioner in the first place.
Steven also investigated just how friendly Medway is to the hard of hearing community, and how easy it is for them to access services in our towns.
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Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any information or stories that might be of interest to our readers. We’re happy to speak off the record in the first instance.