The future of the UK’s water – it’s in our hands

ABB’s UK flow products manager, Tony Hoyle, explains why the UK needs to act now to protect against the very real possibility of future nationwide water shortages. 

Observers of the damp start of the UK’s Spring season might find it hard to believe, but the UK is in serious danger of suffering serious water shortages unless something is done to change the way that the nation uses its water supplies.

Even at its current level, the UK’s rising population is already starting to put a squeeze on our limited water supplies. Despite being the most crowded part of the country, the south-east of the UK in particular is already facing less rainfall per capita than parts of the Mediterranean. The combined effects of a growing population, coupled with the likely impact of climate change on rainfall patterns, means that the time is ripe for finding ways to conserve and optimise the UK’s available water supplies.

One way to do this is through an effective nationwide leakage management strategy. Despite its leading position in the global leakage management league table, the UK is still losing a staggering estimated total of 3,600 megalitres of lost water per day.

It was therefore alarming to see a long-term projection revealed at the recent Global Water Leakage Summit which seemed to show very little investment being devoted in leakage management programmes from 2015 until 2030.

Whilst some measures will be taken in AMP5 for the next five years, the longer term view seems to be that water leakage is at an acceptable level to the regulator, such that relatively little further investment will be injected to bring it lower. This is in stark contrast to the major programmes of the 1990s, which saw leakage drop massively from 225 litres per property per day in 1994/95 to 145 litres per property per day in 1999/2000.

Of course, zero leakage is always going to be a difficult goal, but what about aiming for a modest target of 10%?

The problem is undoubtedly complicated by the recent Ofwat determination, which saw several UK water companies abandoning or scaling down their leakage management programmes to fit the budgets available. Understandably, these companies also have other priorities for investment in other areas such as meeting the ongoing requirements of the Water Framework Directive, the final measures of which are due to conclude in 2015.

Of course, reducing water bills for consumers is always going to be a popular move, particularly with a general election being imminent. However, in my opinion, under-investment in what is quite possibly the nation’s most important resource is both short-sighted, and, in the long-term, dangerous.

To quote the popular line ‘Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon’, UK consumers are going to have to ask themselves what matters more; a cheap supply of water that could soon become a short supply of water, or paying slightly more to take the measures needed now to conserve it.

Either way, the future of water is in our hands.

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