MAPPED: England's seriously water stressed regions

Public water supplies and the natural environment are under pressure from over-abstraction, population growth and climate change, with the number of seriously water-stressed regions doubling since the last assessment, according to the Environment Agency's latest data.

The map below shows seriously water stressed areas (in blue) where the Environment Agency believes there are or are likely to be, environmental impacts caused by public water supplies or the need for major water resources developments. 

Serious water stress is defined in the Water Industry (Prescribed Conditions) Regulations 1999 as where "the current household demand for water is a high proportion of the current effective rainfall which is available to meet that demand; or, the future household demand for water is likely to be a high proportion of the effective rainfall which is likely to be available to meet that demand". 

In the previous 2013 determination of water stressed regions, 7 firms were found to meet the criteria: Affinity, Anglian, Essex and Suffolk, SES, South East, Southern and Thames. 

In the latest round, these firms were joined by Cambridge, Portsmouth, South Staffordshire, Severn Trent, Veolia, Wessex, and South West Water.   

The water company areas identified as seriously water stressed must consider compulsory water metering alongside a range of supply and demand management options in their water resource management plans. 

Yesterday, the government unveiled a range of water security measures, including mandatory water efficiency labels for products such as dishwashers and showers, asking water firms for action on leakage, a lower water use target of 110 litres per person per day, and better water efficiency in new developments, alongside retrofitting in existing ones. 

Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: "We often take our supply of clean and plentiful water for granted... While I have been clear that water companies must up their game and take urgent actiuon in reducing leakage, this new package of measures will help us all to use less water."

Responding to the measures, Water UK's director of policy Stuart Colville, pointed out that, “By 2050, we expect an extra seven million people to be using water just as climate change reduces our supplies by 15%. We can reduce leaks, move water around the country, and develop new sources of supply – but only fully meet the extra needs of future decades by also reducing water use in homes."

Colvills said Water UK was pleased to see the government "take on board our recommendation to introduce water use labels for white goods like washing machines and dishwashers".

However, by introducing labels "in isolation" the government has "missed an important opportunity", he added. "Labels need to be coupled with tighter building regulations to ensure new homes are water efficient, as well as basic minimum standards for appliances to stop them flushing precious supplies down the drain. Those additional changes are the minimum needed to have the impact we need on unnecessary water use; otherwise, we will see continued risks for customers and hard-pressed rivers.”

Yesterday, Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd said: "England's water is not as secure as people believe."

The government has been blamed by both the National Audit Office (NAO) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for the poor management of water supplies. The PAC said the "lack of leadership in getting to grips with all of the issues threatening our water supply”, was “shocking” and “wholly unacceptable”.