The UK is facing a future of Water Deficits – Is Re-Nationalisation the only sensible answer?

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2018 Water, Environment & Transport Conference
23 February 2018

Conference notes that research for the Adaptation Sub-Committee’s (ASC) 2017 Climate Change Risk Assessment evidence report considered a range of possible scenarios to assess water availability in the UK up to the 2080’s. The research, by consultancy HR Wallingford, considered differing levels of climate change, population growth and efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change. In the absence of further actions to those already planned by water companies to balance supply and demand, under a high population and high climate change scenario, UK water supply deficits are projected to become more widespread by the 2050’s.

In particular:

a. The North West of England and the Yorkshire and Humber region are projected to be highly susceptible to supply/demand deficits, as are London and the South-East. However, deficits are also projected in other parts of the UK, including areas of South Wales and the central belt of Scotland.

b. On a national scale, England, Scotland and Wales are projected to be in deficit by 800 million to 3 billion litres per day by 2050 (5–16% of total demand) and by 1.4 billion to 5 billion litres per day by 2080 (8-29% of the total demand).

Reducing the risk

There are 32 water companies in England and Wales regulated by Ofwat. Companies are responsible for monitoring and controlling the water they supply to their customers. By law, all companies must produce a Water Resource Management Plan to forecast supply and demand in their area and explain how they plan to deliver secure public water supplies for at least the next 25 years.

When there is a drought, water companies implement Drought Plans which include a series of actions to ensure water resources are effectively managed. This includes, for example, temporary restrictions on water use (e.g. hosepipes, Garden sprinkler systems, and swimming pools), allowing more water to be taken from rivers, and transferring water from other regions.

To prepare for changes in water availability in the future, water companies are also looking at ways to reduce the risk of shortages and ensure supplies are resilient.

Is it enough?

With the continued flow of money to private companies and owners in the form of profit rather than investment can we expect significant improvements in the balance between water supply and demand, with the substantial associated benefits. In the longer term, improvements on this scale are unlikely to be enough to manage the risk of major deficits by the 2050’s under a high climate change scenario.

Conference believes that only re-nationalization will secure supplies for future generations and calls upon the Service Group Executive to;

a. Review companies new water 2018 resource management plans when they are published. In particular, we are keen to see whether stretching targets suggested by Water UK – and other measures to conserve supply and reduce demand – will be adopted.

b. Lobby elected members, work with UNISON Labour-link and other supportive groups to bring the Water Industry back into public ownership.

c. Launch a campaign to ensure water companies with a water surplus do not benefit financially from those customers who reside in a current water deficit region.

If not, the risk of UK water shortages looks set to rise.