The Environment Agency has launched a four-week consultation last week to determine areas of water stress in England, and how best to protect the environment and safeguard supplies.
Climate change, population growth and the need to improve our resilience to droughts are all putting pressure on water supplies in areas of England.
The consultation will provide up-to-date evidence on water resources so that water companies experiencing the most severe pressures adopt the highest level of water-saving measures, helping to manage supplies in the future and ensure our rivers, lakes and streams are protected.
Seven additional water company areas – Severn Trent Water, South Staffordshire Water, Wessex Water, Portsmouth Water, Cambridge Water, an area of South West Water, and the Isles of Scilly – have been provisionally identified as priority areas.
When an area is determined to be in serious water stress, the water company for that area must publish a water resources management plan (WRMP) that considers all options to manage demand more effectively – including metering and greater leakage reduction.
The Environment Agency’s new water stress maps will use data from water companies and the National Framework for Water Resources, and consider:
- a long-term view of water availability to 2050
- environmental needs, including chalk streams
- impacts of climate change and population growth
- the impact of a 1:500 level of resilience in our water supplies
- planned water efficiency and leakage improvements
Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said: “Climate change and population growth mean that if we don’t take action now, in around 25 years water demand will exceed availability in many areas. But before we reach that point the first thing to suffer is the natural environment and we are already seeing this happen.
“Turning this around will require a society-wide effort. Water companies, Government, the Environment Agency, farmers and individuals have roles to play. In that spirit, we welcome views from all individuals and organisations on the approach and potential solutions.
“Last year, Defra, the Environment Agency and others wrote to water companies challenging them to accelerate investment in a Green Recovery. With Ofwat we are reviewing some great ideas that can benefit the environment and create jobs and we look forward to action later this year.”
The Environment Agency is encouraging greater collaboration between water companies to find innovative solutions to manage demand across the country, such as the sharing of resources through water transfers.
Each company’s WRMP will be subject to public consultation before the Environment Secretary decides whether a company should be allowed to publish and implement its final plan.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Water is a precious natural resource that we must all value as our supplies come under increasing pressure.
“As a government we are proposing a legal target on water demand in our forthcoming Environment Bill and working with water companies to reduce leakage, tackle unsustainable abstraction and pollution, and improve their planning for the future.
“I urge anyone with an interest to take part in this consultation to help preserve supplies and improve our environment for future generations.”
The consultation opened 11 February for four weeks, until 11 March. The Environment Secretary will formally determine areas of water stress later this year.