Government needs to act now or homes risk losing water supply in droughts, NIC warns

dry tap

Homes and businesses across England could see their water supplies cut off during times of severe drought in the next 30 years unless further infrastructure is developed and a new national water system is implemented.

These are the stark warnings published in the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) latest report entitled ‘Preparing for a drier future: England’s water infrastructure needs’. Its chair Sir John Armitt is calling for a radical overhaul of the way the country manages and measures its supply.

He believes a twin-track approach of improving infrastructure and reducing leakage is needed as well as encouraging households and businesses to reduce their demand needs to happen to ensure the network is fit to meet future pressures from climate change and an increasing population.

The paper outlines how inefficient the water industry has become, especially in terms of leaks. The commission tasked with making recommendations to the government about the country's long-term infrastructure needs says England’s water network is already under strain with a fifth of the country’s supply is lost each day to water leakages – almost 3,000 million litres. 

One of the main recommendations in the report is for the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs to be able to set a target to reduce water leakage by half by 2050.

To ensure England has a water supply network that can withstand growing pressures, the infrastructure tsar says water supply should be transferred from reservoirs in the north of the country to the drier, more densely populated areas in the south which are more at risk of severe drought.

Commenting on the report, Armitt said: “We take for granted that we will always have a reliable water supply, but despite our reputation for rain, the country risks water shortages. Climate change, an increasing population – particularly in the drier south and east of England – and the need to protect the environment bring further challenges. We want the government to deliver a ‘twin-track approach; to ensure plans are in place to create additional infrastructure, including a national water network and a significant reduction in demand. If we are to avoid our taps running dry, in times of extreme drought, we need the government to act on our recommendations without delay.”

One other slightly more controversial recommendation made by the commission is for water companies outside of water stressed regions to be given the option to put in place compulsory water meters, so homes and businesses in their area can carefully monitor how much they consume.

Responding to the NIC report, Thames Water chief executive Steve Robertson, said: “We welcome this flagship report and will take full account of its recommendations as we revise our draft Water Resources Management Plan, after the consultation period closes this weekend. We agree that more needs to be done to protect customers from the real long-term risk of severe drought. In the worst case scenario, as the report highlights, restrictions on water use in London alone could cost the economy more than £300m a day. Our long-term proposal for a major new reservoir would allow the transfer of surplus winter rainfall from the wetter west of our region to the drier east, and so benefit customers of several companies in London and the South East."

 The latest report published by the NIC will form a part of the National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) which is due to be released in the first half of July. The NIA will analyse the UK’s long-term economic infrastructure needs, outline a strategic vision over the next 30 years and set out recommendations for how identified needs should be met.

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