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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
Can I have a borehole in my garden?
The Magazine answers...

Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson has been criticised for using a borehole to beat drought restrictions. But if he can have one, what about everyone else?

The owner of a 10-acre estate, Geoffrey Robinson has a big garden to water.

The Labour MP for Coventry Northwest has been criticised for using his own private borehole in the grounds of his 19th Century mansion in Godalming, Surrey, to beat drought restrictions.

What he is doing is legal but he has been criticised for failing to set an example as he lives in the heart of the Thames Water region, which is currently enforcing a hosepipe ban.

Mr Robinson has obtained a licence from the Environment Agency (EA) which exempts the owners of private boreholes from hosepipe bans, provided the water is extracted from their own underground source. It allows him to use a large amount of water each day - enough to use several sprinklers in the garden.

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The borehole extracts rain water which falls through the grounds into water-bearing rocks. They act as a sponge, storing the water before it is pumped back to the surface.

The EA says it has sent a letter to all borehole owners in the Thames region, including Mr Robinson, urging them to limit their water usage.

Anyone can have a borehole in their garden, but if you want to take more than 20 cubic metres (4,000 gallons) of water per day from an underground source you have to apply for a abstraction licence.


"We are all allowed a borehole but is not practical for everyone," says a EA spokeswoman. "They might not have water under their land or it might be poor quality.

"It is also expensive, the average borehole costs 10,000. That's a lot of money when there is no guarantee that you will get a regular water supply."

Every licence application is assessed for its potential impact on the environment and to ensure water resources are safeguarded.

Geoffrey Robinson
There is a hosepipe ban where Robinson lives
Abstraction licences are issued for a time-limited period, depending on the circumstances. In the 1960s licences were granted for anything up to 30 years, but such extended periods are now unusual.

Before starting work on a borehole it is also necessary to investigate the geology of the area and get a groundwater assessment. This is usually done by the British Geological Survey.

The actual on-site work can take up to two weeks. In general terms, boreholes are drilled to a minimum depth of 50 metres or to a depth where there is an adequate supply to meet the users demands. This can take 3 or 4 days.

Pipe work and cables are then installed, a submersible pump is placed in the borehole and tested, pumping to clear the supply.

Water is then sent to the laboratory to verify purity. This is likely to take two to three weeks in all.

What's the big deal? He's drilling for his own water on his own land, surely he should be able to sprinkle it wherever he pleases! Besides, he is setting a good example by using his own resources and not using up the public supply. There's way too much whinging going on that probably boils down to simple jealousy; "Why can he afford to do things I can't" and so on.
Guyon Roche, London

This may be great for the individual, but it's still taking water from the water table that has to supply ever one else in that area. So in effect he is making the water shotage for quite a large area more acute.
VITA, High Wycombe, Bucks.

I enjoy water from a private borehole - I live beside the Thames - and have used it to water new grass seed this year. There is a huge surplus of water in this country. The "drought" is not caused by the weather conditions but by profit hungry water companies that have continuously failed to invest in ensuring adequate storage and sound supply systems. If the water companies' infrastructures were delivering gas, there would be no leaks, no wastage . . . and no hosepipe bans!
Robert Warner, Henley-on-Thames, England

If all he's doing is taking water out to put on his grounds then the water is going to go straight back to the aquifer, so what's wrong with that?
Chris, Derby

Of more concern to me would be how does Mr Robinson properly serve the constituents of North Coventry from a mansion in Surrey ?
Peter , Derby

This is despicable - not just that the MP should be setting an example but the simple fact is that the more boreholes there are then the lower the aquifer pressure and the worse future water problems will be. This is simply selfish and short-sighted, nothing more, nothing less.
Chris Ashton, Manchester, UK

Typical politician. What's an MP doing representing one part of the country and living in another??? What a crass system we have in this country. Of course he's acting totally within the law as most of them do, but what about within the spirit of the law or leading by example?
Pip, Oakham, Rutland

Although it sticks in my throat to support a politician I have to hail this as a good idea encouraging self reliance. We should all look at responsible use of a borehole, perhaps encouraging small communities of people to collectively pay for local boreholes and provide their own water independant from profit making water companies, cutting out wastage from leaky pipes Paolo
Paolo, St Albans

We're lucky enough to have a river at the bottom of our garden, and dip a few watering cans daily in the hottest weather to keep our veg patch going. Sensible use of resources is fine - so if Mr Robinson is guardian of a National Collection of something, or has an upcoming public event within his grounds, it makes sense to use the borehole to maintain the whole garden. For an ordinary garden, watering a small private garden or looking after special plants is fair enough. But watering acres of bedding to keep a large private garden pretty is wasteful.
Isobel, Salisbury, UK

My cricket club has had a private water supply for a very long time. We obviously use a lot of water on the playing surface throughout the summer. As it is part of a National Trust property which recieves lots of visitors its always "entertaining" explaining that "yes we can use as much water as we like even in the middle of a drought".
Rob Cornelius, Somerset UK

The two main hospitals in Nottingham (City Hospital & QMC) both have their own boreholes. Apparently it saves them 500,000 a year compared to the cost of being on the mains supply..... the tap water tastes pretty foul though.
Peter, Nottingham

I recently lived in the US and most of the houses on our estate in a large conurbation had boreholes or wells. The water was used to clean cars or water the garden, can't see the problem with it to be honest. The water wasn't of a good enough quality to drink. However, the quoted cost here (10,000) is well (no pun intended!) above that paid in the States for a borehole!
Clive, Marlow

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