Water research 'goes down the drain'
By WILLIAM BOWN One-fifth of the scientists at Britain’s leading water research laboratory will lose their jobs because the privatised water companies are cutting their spending on research. About 80 scientists and 40 support staff at WRC in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, will be made redundant in April. Until now, work at WRC, the private company which became heir to the state-owned Water Research Centre when the water industry was privatised in 1989, has been protected by a five-year agreement with the 10 water companies. The agreement runs out in April. Since 1989, the water companies have channelled a steady £3 million a year to WRC. The company expects a sharp cut this year. John Moss, managing director of WRC, says: ‘It is unlikely in a free market situation that we will be fully able to replace the income from these contracts.’ Much of WRC’s work has been aimed at safeguarding public health. The company has been at the forefront of research into the summer blooms of toxic algae in freshwater, and it has developed techniques for removing pesticides from drinking water. The National Rivers Authority, which commissions research mainly into the environmental effects of the water industry, is also cutting back on its work. It reduced its research spending from £7.5 million in 1992-93 to £6.7 million in this financial year, and five of its eleven laboratories are being closed in a ‘rationalisation’ programme. Water research ‘is going down the drain’, warns Chris Smith, Labour’s environment spokesman. He believes that water companies are backing away from research because they fear it will demonstrate a need for higher purity standards. ‘The more research that gets done,