The UK must act to overcome its deepening water resource crisis and escape ‘the jaws of death’, the chief executive of the Environment Agency Sir James Bevan has urged at the 2019 Waterwise Conference.
He made the warning following his assessment of water company business plans published earlier this year (EA 05-Feb-19), which forecast increasing demand for water but reduced supplies.
According to Bevan, in most water company plans the point at which demand supersedes supply occurs around 20 years from now – aptly named the jaws of death because the UK will literally not have the water it needs.
Climate change will reduce the amount of available water by 10-15% by 2050, with some rivers seeing 50-80% less water in the summer months as a result of hotter, drier summers.
Meanwhile the UK’s population is expected to grow to 75m people by 2050, from 68m today causing what he describes as an “existential threat”.
To tackle this threat Bevan recommends a two pronged approach. Reduce the UK’s demand by installing water meters, reducing leakage, improve water efficiency in buildings and educating the populace. On the other hand supply must increase by transferring water between regions, and building more reservoirs and desalination plants.
“Creating some of that new infrastructure will be challenging: we have not built a new reservoir in the UK for decades, largely because clearing all the planning and legal hurdles necessary is so difficult and local opposition so fierce.”
“But while there will be political challenges, there should be less difficulty over the economics. That’s because the investment needed to build the infrastructure we need to increase our resilience is modest compared with the cost of not doing it.”
Bevan’s comments mark an escalation in the concern of the UK’s water resources kicked off last year by the National Infrastructure Assessment (D&I 13-Jul-18) after it said the costs of doing nothing could be up to £40bn, twice as much as the cost of mitigating (£21bn).
Thames Water built the first water desalination plant of its kind in the UK in Beckton, The plant was officially opened in 2010 and can provide up to 150 million litres of drinking water each day – enough for nearly one million people.
Thames Water has re-tabled proposals to build a reservoir near Abingdon in Oxfordshire, but has pushed back its delivery until 2043. The proposal was made in Thames Water’s recently published draft water resources management plan (WRMP) for 2019-2024, which is under consultation until 29 April.