Report: England must prepare for water shortages within decades

Climate change and population growth will put huge pressure on English water supplies over the coming decades, says a new National Audit Office report
Climate change and population growth will put huge pressure on English water supplies over the coming decades, says a new National Audit Office report.  kwasny222/Depositphotos.

The UK Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has issued a warning: large areas of England will face significant risk of drought due to climate change, and water companies need to find billions of extra liters per day by 2050 to keep up.

A National Audit Office report on water supply and demand management has estimated that the demand for clean water in England alone will exceed supply by somewhere between 1.1 and 3.1 billion liters per day in the 2050s, “depending on the extent of climate change and population growth.”

Supply is expected to decrease by 7 percent by 2045, due to drier weather expected under current climate change trends. Less rain will lead to less ground and surface water, and the report warns that the country will need to work hard to retain the right balance between meeting the demand and making sure that enough remains to protect the structure and biodiversity of the landscape.

Some parts of the country will feel this earlier than others, and the nation is beginning to remove barriers that are currently preventing investment in bulk water transfer schemes that will pump water from areas of plenty to nearby areas of scarcity. Regulators and all the major water companies are working together to find viable solutions for this problem.

The report frames desalination plants as a tough sell, noting their high initial cost and energy-intensive nature. Reservoir creation is another plan water companies are looking at, which might help balance seasonal loads.

One key part of the plan going forward is to convince people to use less water, promoting efficient water use across the country. As it is, the English have been slowly increasing their water usage over the last six years. They’re currently using 143 liters (38 gallons) of water per person per day, up 3 percent since 2014/15. The government appears to be hoping the water companies will step up and start educating their customers on this account, as reducing per capita water use is by far the cheapest way to address the coming supply issues.

One area of opportunity is leakage. Apparently, the English and Welsh water systems lose a whopping 20 percent of their daily water total to leaks in the system. The water companies have committed to reducing leakage by 16 percent by 2025.

Unfortunately, this improvement is already factored into the overall picture, which doesn’t look great. Of all the countries to be facing down water shortages, England comes as quite a surprise.

Source: National Audit Office via The Guardian

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