England’s water supply shortfall set to be 4.8 billion litres per day by 2050 and the Water Companies main solution – cutting demand – looks like pure fantasy

4 minute read // Janina Gray
  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
Water companies plans for dealing with water shortages are unrealistic and unclear.

England’s water supply shortfall is estimated to increase to 4.8 billion litres per day by 2050 and the water companies’ main solution – cutting demand –  looks like pure fantasy.

By 2050, England’s public water supply is expected to have a shortfall of nearly 5 billion litres of water per day (between the sustainable water supplies available and the expected demand) if business as usual continues. This is according to the latest Defra summary of draft water resource management plans (the Plans). Water companies are required to submit these plans every five years to outline how they will achieve a secure supply of water for their customers while protecting the environment.

This deficit is truly terrifying. Having read many of these draft WRMPs, we fear the toolbox of measures to balance the books and deal with this deficit is simply not up to scratch.

Unrealistic and unclear, the plans rely on changes in public behaviour

The Plans conveniently expect nearly two-thirds of the 4.8 billion litres of additional water needed by 2050 to be met by reductions in demand. This big number is largely based on ambitious targets for us, the public, to reduce our personal water use. Achieving this huge behavioural change, however, is little more than a paragraph or two in the Plans with no roadmap on how the numbers will add up to the totals required. We should add, there is no plan b if the numbers do not stack up… and, of conveniently this demand reduction spares water companies the need to invest in new sources of supply.

The Plans are very opaque, high level summaries, supported by thousands of pages of technical appendices, all of which makes it very difficult to understand where our water is actually coming from. Or, how the supply and demand figures add up. You might think this bureaucratic lack of clarity is deliberate but we couldn’t possibly comment.

Another example of economy over environment

The same underinvestment by water companies in dealing with sewage, is also happening with water supply. Water supply in England is fully dependent on naturally occurring supplies of water from lakes, rivers, reservoirs and groundwater sources. Water is abstracted from these sites and pumped into our homes and businesses through a network of pipes. The problem is that these natural sources cannot supply enough water to meet the growing demand and provide enough left over for our rivers and lakes to thrive. This is true in normal conditions. In drought conditions we face ecological disaster.

Defra’s summary report itself stateswe also have concerns, following recent droughts, that some water companies’ supplies are not resilient enough’ and ‘if delivery is unsuccessful, we will face growing water supply deficits.’.

Urgent investment into major infrastructure schemes is a must to protect aquatic wildlife and manage water supply deficits.

We are reassured to hear that Defra has written to companies individually, requiring many to undertake further actions before the Plans can be finalised, we wait to see if they have heeded this warning in the final plans.

WildFish has written to several water companies expressing major concerns with their Plans. Southern Water, who has had to go back to the drawing board and re-consult because its current Plan was simply not good enough, was one of these. We also contacted Wessex Water and South West Water who have carried out significant revisions – though neither has gone far enough to provide adequate protection for our rivers.

Let’s remember, the numbers not stacking up isn’t an insignificant thing. A water shortfall and the resulting reliance on natural sources is an ecological disaster for rivers and people – when the rivers can give no more, we’ll be turning on the taps to find no water is coming out… we eagerly await the final plans.

By: Janina Gray
Deputy CEO
England’s water supply shortfall set to be 4.8 billion litres per day by 2050 and the Water Companies main solution – cutting demand –  looks like pure fantasy - Wildfish
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