Why Britain’s Rain Can’t Sustain It’s Thirst

Despite often being rain-soaked, England needs to wake up to a future of increasing water scarcity and introduce mandatory water metering.

In the South-East of England, the average annual rainfall lingers around 500-600mm – less than South Sudan, or Perth, Western Australia. This is also the UK’s most populated area, with 18 million inhabitants, including London. And this region is drying up, fast.


Yet many of the public remain oblivious to the problem and the average Brit uses 150 litres of water per day.

People don’t see water as something we need to save… the [public perception is] we are a wet country”, sighs Hannah Freeman, senior government affairs officer for the charity Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT). “But the [latest] climate change projections say that the chance of dry summers is going to increase by up to 50%.” And warmer winters, too. 


England offers a case study of how previously wet countries will have to wake up to a future of increasing water scarcity.

England’s London and Thames Valley region is classified by the UK Environment Agency as ‘seriously water stressed’. “We have relatively small water storage facilities”, explains Steve Tuck, abstraction manager for Thames Water. 

Over-use by households coupled with a growing population and less frequent rainfall has led to “an exacerbation” of the problem, Tuck admits. 

Thames Water has even invested in the UK’s very first desalination facility in the Thames estuary to provide London with an additional 150 million litres of drinking water a day. 


Despite dry spells and drought becoming more frequent in the UK, Catherine Moncrieff at WWF-UK believes the underlying issue is people “using water wastefully”.

Only half of households in England and Wales have a water meter installed. The other half pay a flat monthly rate, irrespective of the amount of water they use.


By contrast, an Environment Agency report from 2008 identified Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium as almost fully metered – all had a far lower water consumption per person than the UK’s 150 litres a day. Finland’s was just 115 litres per day, down from 350-420 litres. 

The downward trend since, says the report, is due to “higher water prices, better technology in households and utilities, increased consumer awareness and better utility management.”

According to Linstead at WWF, “almost every country that has carried out successful water efficiency campaigns has metering.


WWF go further, saying that 80 litres per person “is entirely possible to achieve now” in homes fitted with modern, water-efficient appliances.

There’s no reason why soggy old England “can’t achieve water security”, says Freeman. “We’ve got plenty of water when it rains! We just need to be better at using it.”


Click here to read the full BBC article.


External Sources

BBC News: Why Britain’s Rain Can’t Sustain It’s Thirst