Time to invest in our water security
As England enters the autumn, the National Drought Group met to reiterate the importance of all sectors continuing to plan and invest for future droughts
Experts are pushing for more investment now to ensure England is in the best possible position ahead of future droughts, the National Drought Group heard this week (13 September).
The Group is taking proactive steps now, while water supply is stable, to ensure the preservation of vital water resources – with government, conservation experts and water companies gathering to discuss how we can best ensure the needs of the public, farmers, industry, nature and wildlife are met.
Chaired by the Environment Agency’s Water Management and Investment Deputy Director Richard Thompson, the meeting discussed the ongoing challenge of securing England’s water supply in the face of a growing population, urbanisation and climate change.
National Drought Group members heard that:
- It is vital that we prepare and plan for severe droughts so that we are ready for any eventuality.
- The wet summer means that water resources are in a generally healthy position as we go into the autumn.
- Recent hot weather has meant river flows have fallen and some water companies have reported increases in demand for water. The heatwave reminds us that it is important for everyone to use water wisely at all times, not just during droughts.
- Smart meters can provide a raft of benefits to help customers understand their water usage and help water companies manage, monitor and forecast demand for water more effectively. Water companies’ draft water resources management plans showed that they plan to increase smart metering to nearly 50% of homes by 2040.
- The Environment Agency and Defra emphasised the need for planning for all droughts, including severe droughts. Despite the wetter weather over the summer, the Environment Agency and all sectors continue to prepare for all weather eventualities, both in the short and longer term.
The National Drought Group (NDG) is made up of senior decision-makers from the Environment Agency, government, water companies and key representative groups. Water Minister Rebecca Pow also joined this week’s meeting.
EA Water Management and Investment Deputy Director Richard Thompson said:
"Water is a precious resource. We must all work together to ensure our water supplies are resilient into the future, especially now while our valuable resources are in a good place.
"The EA will continue work with all sectors to prepare for droughts, including the most severe. It remains crucial for all of us to use water responsibly, not only to safeguard our water resources but also to protect our environment and wildlife for current and future generations."
Water Minister Rebecca Pow said:
"We must take every opportunity to ensure we get ahead of potential hot, dry weather, particularly now as we head into the cooler months.
"Through our Plan for Water, we are funding more on-farm reservoirs and better irrigation equipment for farmers, have secured significant investment to increase our water resilience, and are ensuring key water supply infrastructure, such as reservoirs, can be built more quickly.
"We have also been clear that water companies need to ensure adequate infrastructure to secure our future water supply, do more to reduce leakage and encourage water efficiency. However, we all have an important role to play in preserving water resources."
The changeable weather already experienced this year continues - with a hot and dry late May and June, and wet weather throughout July and August.
Despite the recent hot start to September, most rivers, reservoirs and groundwater are where we would expect them for this time of year. The exceptions are Cornwall, Devon and north Norfolk, which remain in drought. We will continue to monitor the hydro-ecology and reservoir levels of the areas in drought.
As of 6 September, total reservoir capacity across England was 81% full. The August total rainfall for England was 72mm, which represents 102% of the 1961 to 1990 long term average (LTA) for the time of year (96% of the 1991 to 2020 LTA).
The Plan for Water
The government’s Plan for Water brings together the significant action already taken, along with new measures, that will secure a plentiful supply of water. This includes:
- £2.2 billion of new, accelerated investment by water companies to spend on infrastructure to tackle pollution and increase our water resilience.
- A second £10m round of Water Management Grants to fund more on-farm reservoirs and better irrigation equipment.
- A new National Policy Statement on water resources so that key water supply infrastructure – such as reservoirs and water transfer schemes – can be built more quickly.
- Unlocking an additional £469 million of investment to develop new large-scale water infrastructure, including transfers, recycling, and reservoirs through the Regulators Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development (RAPID) programme.
- Actions to meet our statutory water demand target to reduce the use of public water supply by 20% per person by 2038. This includes encouraging water companies to consider how to rapidly increase smart meter installations for household and non-household customers, and delivering a mandatory water efficiency label on water-using products by 2025.
- Setting ambitious targets for water companies to crack down on leakage, facing financial penalties if they don’t meet them.