There is a significant and growing risk of severe drought impacts arising from climate change, population growth and environmental drivers, according to the first study to look at the long-term resilience of public water supply in the UK in this context – in an Atkins-led report released today by Water UK.
The report looks at the next 50 years of water provision across the country and considers the impacts of climate change, population growth and abstractions.
Key findings and recommendations in the report include:
- There is a strong case for the UK and Welsh Governments to consider adopting consistent national minimum levels of resilience, recognising that there are significant issues to address, including inter-regional and inter-generational fairness
- The investment needed to increase resilience is relatively modest compared with the cost of drought
- A ‘twin track’ approach that includes supply enhancement, with associated transfers, as well as demand management is the most appropriate strategic mix for the future
- There is a case for a national level ‘adaptive plan’ that supports on-going Water Resource Management Plans and balances risk against opportunities to defer costs
- Industry, government and regulators need to work together with customers on how best to respond to the risk of severe drought.
Ben Piper, Atkins’ technical director for water resources, and project team member, said: “The UK water industry is faced with a difficult future to plan for and to maintain a resilient water supply system. Climate change and population growth combined with tighter than ever environmental standards, all add up to a major challenge. This report lays the challenge out in detail but also points to some tangible solutions.
Jean Spencer, regulation director at Anglian Water and chair of the steering group for the project, added: “The threat of drought is already with us – were it not for the unprecedented rainfall in the spring of 2012, we might have suffered significant problems with water supply that summer. This is world class research that will support companies and government in planning for resilient water resources in the future.”
The study was funded by Water UK and was led by a steering group, comprising water companies, regulators and UK and Welsh Government representatives. Atkins worked with a team, including representatives from Mott Macdonald, Nera Economic Consulting, HR Wallingford and the University of Oxford Environmental Change Institute.
Atkins is working on other initiatives that will similarly underpin its work to help to influence policy and strategy in this field and the next round of Water Resource Management Plans. Notable projects/involvements include:
- UKWIR – Atkins was the lead consultant for two projects under its Methodologies for Water Resource Management Plan 2019 programme
- Joint UK Research Council MaRIUS project – Atkins is a member of the external stakeholder advisory panel for the Managing the Risks, Impacts and Uncertainties of Drought and Water Scarcity Project led by the University of Oxford
- Regional and individual water company initiatives – such as continuing Atkins’ involvement in programmes including Water Resources in the South East (WRSE) and Water Resources East (WRE).
The reports are available online: