Today, our water is supplied via the tap from regional utility companies. Up until the late 1980s, the universal provision of water in England and Wales was considered to be a public health service and as such, was operated on a national basis by a public company. The water industry in England and Wales was privatised in 1989 and sold off by the Government to ten regional companies. The provision of water in Scotland and Northern Ireland remains in public ownership.
Whatever your views on privatisation, there’s no doubt that the emphasis on water provision has changed. Annual reports once defined the main objective of the water companies to be the “provision of fresh, wholesome and healthy water to the British public”. Now, those same reports are dominated by words and phrases such as profitability, ‘cost to earnings ratios’ and ‘shareholder dividends’.
Whilst privatisation in such sectors as telecommunication and rail/airline travel may appear favourable to many, applying purely commercial considerations to the supply of day to day human necessities such as water may be less attractive.
Although the annual reports of the privatised water companies are quick to talk about compliance and governance they appear to more reluctant to discuss failures, accidents and incidents. Privatisation may have its advantages but in regard to the provision of water, I remain convinced that the quality of our tap water has significantly declined since the early 1990s due to the commercial pressures imposed on private utility companies.
This is evidenced by the number of distraught pond owners that I have visited over the years who have collectively witnessed the early demise of hundreds of Koi due to the presence of so called water purifiers such as chlorine, ammonia and aluminium sulphate as well as pesticides such as pyrethrum.
The Koi is generally a robust fish but it undoubtedly struggles to live a healthy existence if the wrong type of chlorine is present in the water. In truth, there is little if any difference to the amount of chlorine found in our tap water today as that found in the days before privatisation. The problem we have today is the change in how the chlorine is produced.
Prior to privatisation, the water was chlorinated via the use of chlorine gas but today, cheaper chemicals such as chloramines are used. Chloramines are disinfectants used to treat tap water and they are commonly formed when ammonia is added to chlorine to treat domestic water. Chloramines are susceptible to localised overdosing. Although this overdose is often temporary, this is no consolation if your prized Kohaku just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Another major killer is Aluminium Sulphate. This is widely used today as a clarifier in the final stages of water treatment. Although effective in removing particulates and improving the appearance of the water in regard to shine and sparkle it is also highly toxic even in relatively small amounts.
Towards the end of the 1980s an incident in Cornwall resulted in the amount of Aluminium Sulphate being overdosed by a factor of 3,000. Chlorine and Aluminium Sulphate are just two examples of chemicals used in the treatment of our water. There are numerous other pesticides and bactericides that can prove fatal to Koi if they are present in the wrong doses.
Testing your water for the presence of such chemicals is both difficult and time consuming. The reality is that unless you know what you’re doing then you’re highly unlikely to detect these agents and therefore at risk of having a contaminated water source.
In order to remedy this conundrum it is firstly important to understand the reality of the risks involved. Going forward, the reality is that the commercial pressures on utility companies discussed earlier will remain and the quality of the water provided is unlikely to improve. Each year, hundreds of Koi die unnecessarily due to contaminated water source.
By understanding these risks we can then take positive action to mitigate them. Fortunately, modern day technology offers us comprehensive solutions to many of them but as with all insurance, it comes at a price. We highly recommend all Koi keepers try and minimalise these risks by investing in both de-chlorination AND purification measures.
There is now a wide range of de-chlorination equipment available that works by removing chlorine from your water supply. This is achieved by the use of a combination of mechanical membranes and ion exchange using a variety of activated particulate chemicals and resins. The device size depends on the volume of water used. The device itself requires regular maintenance and replacement of the consumable elements. This might seem expensive, but it is nowhere near as expensive as replacing poisoned Koi.
Tap water purifiers also come with a wide range of options but they all share one commonality – you get what you pay for. At one end of the scale are simple inline activated charcoal tubes that cost less than £100.
At the other end of the scale are two stage micro filtration and chemical adsorption units. Only this type of device will remove aluminium sulphate and could cost in the region of £1,000.00.
In summary, the importance of water source management cannot be overstressed. When attempting to mitigate the risks, a strategy of prevention as opposed to expensive replacement is recommended. Investing in the health and well-being of your Koi can be a strain on your budget but my advice is ‘Spend to Save’.