In a speech this morning at a conference hosted by water efficiency organisation Waterwise, Sir James Bevan said climate change and population growth had created an “existential threat” and an impending crisis where water supply might be unable to match demand in 20 – 25 years time.
“And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the jaws of death – the point at which, unless we take action to change things, we will not have enough water to supply our needs,” Bevan said.
Bevan told delegates the EA anticipates that by 2040, more than half of England’s summers will exceed the record-breaking temperatures and dry spells of 2003, which was responsible for 2,000 heat-related deaths in the UK.
In conjunction with a rapidly warming climate, by 2050 water supply could be down by 10-15%, with some rivers seeing 50%-80% less water during the summer months. The south-east could be faced with significant acute water deficits in particular, Bevan said.
The EA is also accounting for a predicted population increase of eight million people by 2050.
Bevan said reducing leakage, water metering, sustainable drainage systems, new building regulations to drive greater water efficiency and reducing personal consumption were critical to solving the problem.
There is also an urgent need to build new reservoirs and set up more water transfers between regions from areas of water surplus to areas of deficit, according to Bevan. Currently only 4% of water supplies are transferred between water companies.
Planning Act 2008
06 Apr 2016
The government has plans to streamline the planning process for reservoirs – schemes that will hold back at least 30 million cubic metres or provide at least 80 megalitres per day of deployable output – through its national policy statement. A consultation on the draft statement closed in January.
Bevan explained the EA was “midway through” its programme of reforming abstraction licences, sometimes adding new terms and conditions that will reduce overall water usage or only allow it at times when it will not cause harm, he told the conference attendees.
Commenting on James Bevan’s speech, a National Infrastructure Commission spokesperson said: “England faces the very real prospect of drought over the next thirty years, so we welcome the Environment Agency’s call for decisive action now to change our whole approach to water management.
“We’re also pleased Sir James highlighted the need for new reservoirs and water transfers, which are key elements in building a more resilient approach that we have recommended, alongside tackling leakage.”