Report warns of significant water shortages for England by 2050

Article by Amanda Doyle

Nearly 3bn L/d is lost via leaks in pipes

AN Environmental Agency report has warned that leaking pipes, water wastage, population growth, and climate change could lead to significant water shortages in England by 2050.

The report is the first major report on water resources in England and reviews the current unsustainable water use in parts of the country, as well as highlighting how this will lead to further environmental damage and increased water shortages, particularly in the south-east.

Despite the high levels of rainfall in England, nearly half of this water is lost through evaporation or through uptake by plants. Nearly 3bn L/d is lost via leaks in pipes, which is equivalent to the amount used by more than 20m people in an average day. Although leaked water returns to the environment, it wastes the energy used in treating and cleaning it.

In 2016, 9,500bn L of water was taken from the environment, which is enough to cover the whole of Greater London under 6 m of water, and one-third of water abstracted was wasted through leaks, losses in treatment, and in domestic use. These levels of abstraction leave little room for increase in demand. Even in the north-west and south-west, which are generally thought of as water-rich areas, additional water is not available all of the time.

The amount of water taken from the environment was unsustainable for 28% of groundwater sources and 18% of surface water such as rivers in 2017. The reduced flow of rivers could damage local ecology and wildlife, particularly in chalk streams, which are an important habitat.

These overstretched resources will come under further pressure from a growing population. The average person uses 140 L/d and the population of England is predicted to rise to 58.5m by 2026. Climate change will affect the amount and timing of rainfall and influence the way land is used, adding further challenges.

The report stressed that if no action is taken to reduce demand and increase supplies then most areas will not be able to meet demand.

More than a third of freshwater is currently used for electricity supply but increased use of nuclear power or renewable energy would result in lower levels of abstraction and consumption by 2050. However, increased use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) will increase water use as CCS requires extra water to function.

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency said:

“We need to change our attitudes to water use. It is the most fundamental thing needed to ensure a healthy environment but we are taking too much of it and have to work together to manage this precious resource. Industry must innovate and change behaviours in order to reduce demand and cut down on wastage – and we all have a duty to use water more wisely at home. With demand on the rise, water companies must invest more in infrastructure to address leakage instead of relying on abstraction and the natural environment to make up this shortfall.”

The full Environmental Agency report can be read here:

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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