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England at risk of water shortages, warns Environment Agency

Words: Laura Edgar
Derwent Reservoir supplies water to north east England / Shutterstock_578183497

A report by the Environment Agency has suggested that climate change and the demands of a growing population could see England suffering from ‘significant’ water supply deficits by 2050.

Leakages from water companies are currently estimated at three billion litres a day (enough for 20 million people). This, as well industry and public demand, and unsustainable levels of water abstraction, are listed as the three issues to tackle to protect the water environment in The State of the Environment: Water Resource.

Current levels of water abstraction are unsustainable in more than a quarter of groundwaters and one-fifth of rivers, the report suggests. This leads to reduced flows which in turn, could damage local ecology and wildlife.

Last year the government released a plan for abstraction reform that intends to review existing licences and introduce more controls to protect water resources. The Environment Agency said it has started work in four priority catchments to test out new licensing approaches to help meet local demand.

Over half (55 per cent) of abstracted from freshwater sources is taken by water companies for the public, with a third used for electricity supply and other industries.

The Environment Agency has called on the water companies to “pursue ambitious“ water resource management plans and wants the industry to find ways to be more efficient when it comes to water use.

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said: “We need to change our attitudes to water use. It is the most fundamental thing needed to ensure a healthy environment but we are taking too much of it and have to work together to manage this precious resource.

“Industry must innovate and change behaviours in order to reduce demand and cut down on wastage – and we all have a duty to use water more wisely at home.

“With demand on the rise, water companies must invest more in infrastructure to address leakage instead of relying on abstraction and the natural environment to make up this shortfall.”

A spokesperson for Water UK, said: “The water industry works hard to protect the environment, and companies will set out ambitious plans later this year which should mean less water is taken out of our rivers. We’ve also cut leakage a third since the 1990s, but we know there’s a lot more to do which is why it’s one of our top priorities.”

The report also found that there is not a “clear trend in droughts, but summer river flows and groundwater levels may decrease in the future”.

The State of the Environment: Water Resource can be found on the Environment Agency website (pdf).

Image credit | Shutterstock