LONDON, England – An effective response to the significant and growing risk of drought in England and Wales is possible if concerted action is taken now, according to new research published by the UK water industry.
The research modelled the possible effects of climate change, population growth, environmental protection measures and trends in water use to produce a wide range of future scenarios.
For the report, new modelling techniques were used to look 50 years ahead across the whole of England and Wales.
The results suggested that, in some scenarios, the country is facing more frequent and more acute droughts than previously thought.
Drier areas of the country (the south and east of England) face a higher risk of more severe droughts than those experienced in the past, while English regions further to the north and west are also more exposed to the prospect of future water shortages.
The modelling shows that extensive measures to manage demand and enhance supplies of water are needed to contain the risk of drought, for example, by:
- Promoting more efficient water use in homes and businesses, through improved building standards and widespread use of smart metering, as well as more ambitious reduction in leakage from water mains
- Moving more water from one region to another through existing waterways and new pipelines, building new reservoirs, treating more water for re-use and building desalination plants to make use of sea water.
The report's authors concluded that, by adopting a step-by-step approach, the additional cost of making the supply of water more resilient to severe droughts would be equivalent to about £4 per annum per household.
By contrast, the impact on the economy of inaction could be very high, costing an estimated £1.3 billion per day during the most widespread situations of severe drought modelled in the report.
The report comes shortly after publication of the Government's National Floods Resilience Review (read WWi article), which acknowledged that at many times and in many places, water is in increasingly short supply. The Review said there are obvious benefits to managing water in a way that reduces both flood risk and water stress.
The research into drought risk was carried out by independent consultants and peer reviewed by leading experts in water resources, climate change and environmental management. It was commissioned by Water UK after the government asked water companies in 2015 to look at the long term resilience of water resources in England and Wales.
Michael Roberts, chief executive of Water UK, said: "Since privatisation, the industry has invested billions of pounds in securing the nation's precious water resources, but we all need to do more in the face of current and future pressures on those resources.
Jean Spencer, regulation director at utility Anglian Water, who chaired the project, said: “The threat of drought is already with us - were it not for the unprecedented rainfall in the spring of 2012, we might have suffered significant problems with water supply that summer. This is world class research that will support companies and government in planning for resilient water resources in the future."
Ben Piper, technical director for water resources, and project team member at Atkins, which led the report, said: “The UK water industry is faced with a difficult future to plan for and to maintain a resilient water supply system. Climate change and population growth combined with tighter than ever environmental standards, all add up to a major challenge. This report lays the challenge out in detail but also points to some tangible solutions.”
Southern Water's water strategy manager Meyrick Gough helped developed the sophisticated modelling techniques used in the report.
He said: "We are the only water company to have based our current water resources management plan on the potential droughts of the future and we strongly believe that the water industry needs to act now - and work together - in order to protect our customers. An extra £4 per year, the cost of a lunchtime sandwich, will be enough to meet water resource needs for the future.”
The full report can be read here.