Environment Agency calls for greater water resources for the future

The Environment Agency is calling for the development of more water resources in order to prepare for future increases in demand and for the effects of climate change, in its new strategy on water resources.

A new document, Water Resources for the Future, launched on 21 March, examines the water needs of the environment and society over the next 25 years, and sets out 30 actions which the Environment Agency will be taking forward in collaboration with others involved in the supply and use of water. The Agency has also published a number of regional strategies, and a strategy for Wales to accompany the report.

The strategy takes into account population growth, housing projections, and possible climate change effects, and has concluded that in much of England and Wales water is a scarce resource, with large parts of the country unable to sustain any increases in abstraction during the summer. In many areas the current levels of abstraction are already damaging valuable habitats.

Projected future scenarios in the Agency’s strategy have shown that a demand for water is highly dependent on societal choice and governance, with the possibility that over the next 25 years, economic pressure, technology, or our desire to use water in different ways could cause demand to either increase or decrease significantly. Both demand and availability for water could also be impacted by climate change, according to the Environment Agency, such as through river flow and groundwater regimes, or changes in agricultural planting and harvesting dates.

“The strategy … offers a prudent combination of demand management and development of resources,” said Dr Geoff Mance, the Environment Agency’s Director of Water Management. “Our proposals are robust enough to cope with whatever the future may bring. They are also flexible and phased. On this basis, we believe we will be able to solve the environmental problems facing us now, and make real progress towards sustainable water management which meets the needs of people and the environment.”

However, taking all factors into account, the Agency is recommending the development of new water resources totalling 1800 megalitres per day by 2025, with a reduction of existing damaging abstractions by 700 megalitres per day. The result will be a net increase of 6% of the current total abstraction from non-tidal waters in England and Wales, says the Environment Agency. An increase in water resources will also be achieved through raising levels in some existing reservoirs in East Anglia and the South East of England, and there will also be consideration of further reservoir storage in the Thames catchment.

The Environment Agency will also be making advances in controlling leakage, and will be promoting more efficient use of water by industry, agriculture and domestic consumers, and will be implementing an increase in household metering.

“This strategy should encourage further growth of existing activities in managing the sometimes delicate balance between supply and demand for water,” said Environment Minister Michael Meacher. “A key factor of the strategy document is a list of 30 actions. These are broadly familiar in concept – for example, further integration of supply systems, promotion of water efficiency and leakage control. And we must nurture new ideas about how we can manage our demand for water and use this precious resource sustainably.

The Environment Minister from the National Assembly for Wales, Sue Essex, has also welcomed the new strategy as a valuable support to the Assembly’s sustainable development scheme. “Water is a natural resource that has been undervalued for far too long,” she said. “Although Wales appears to have a constantly replenishing supply of water, the potential threats associated with climate change and increased future demands need to be addressed now.”

“The efficient use of any resource has obvious cost saving benefits and so this strategy also carries an important message to Welsh businesses and the economy as a whole. I urge them to play their part,” she added.

Copies of the strategy are available from the Environment Agency’s website, or from: the Environment Agency, Water Resources Department, Rio House, Aztec West, Almondsbury, Bristol BS32 4UD, telephone number 01454 624400, email: [email protected]. Regional strategies, and the strategy for Wales are available from the relevant Environment Agency office, telephone number 0845 933 3111.

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