“There is a serious risk that some parts of the country will run out of water within the next 20 years” warns the UK’s Public Accounts Committee in a report published last week. The MPs drafting the report criticise the authorities responsible for water management (the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Environment Agency and Ofwat) for not paying enough attention to ensuring a reliable water supply, and they call for immediate action, informs The Guardian.
They point to the large water volume lost to leaks (more than 3 billion litres, about 20% of the volume used) as an unacceptable wastage and a pressing issue, indicating “no one organisation has got a thorough grip on dealing with this issue and driving the change necessary” in the last two decades. The committee urges DEFRA and Ofwat to ensure water companies meet leakage reduction targets, and publish performance data every year.
Since the companies were privatised in 1989, the government has not provided clear guidance on how to balance investing in infrastructure with the need to keep water prices affordable.
The report also notes insufficient efforts by DEFRA to enhance water efficiency, citing examples such as product labels for appliances and building regulations. Regarding awareness about water conservation, there is no coherent national message and companies’ approaches have been insufficient. With no central funding, the ‘Love Water’ campaign launched a year ago has not had much of an impact so far.
The committee’s MPs are not clear on how the commitment by both water companies and the Environment Agency to achieve net zero by 2030 is to be achieved, or how water resources planning takes into account carbon footprints when assessing options. The environmental threats of over-abstraction, sewage discharges, and major infrastructure such as the HS2 high speed railway, have also been highlighted, noting the need to balance environmental preservation with meeting water demands.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “Empty words on climate commitments and unfunded public information campaigns will get us where we’ve got the last 20 years: nowhere. Defra has failed to lead and water companies have failed to act: we look now to the Department to step up, make up for lost time and see we get action before it’s too late.”
Water UK has responded to the committee’s report saying the water industry is making significant progress across many of its recommendations. Specifically, next week a national campaign to help consumers save water will be launched. Moreover, leakage is a priority, and was cut by 7% this year to the lowest level on record. Water companies also plan to invest £5 billion (€5.5 billion) in the coming 5 years in environmental improvements.