Defra proposes personal water 'budgets'
The Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has proposed the introduction of a "personal water target" which would legally require individuals to keep their water consumption within a certain "budget".
The proposal forms part of a public consultation examining how water can be better managed at individual, local and business levels, launched in the wake of the Environment Agency’s (EA) warning that England could run short of water within 25 years.
Launched on Friday (19 July), the consultation is asking academics, businesses and individuals what measures the Government can take to foster a “water-saving culture” in which water utilities actively support domestic and business customers to use less.
In addition to personal water targets, the consultation will cover how water-using products should be labelled, how information on water saving is made available to consumers and which behaviour change campaign methods are most effective.
It will additionally explore how building standards can be improved to boost water efficiency, and how metering could be used to manage water systems in the future, as the population grows and the temperature increases.
“We take our supply of clean water for granted and to keep doing that, given the growing population and impact of climate change, we need to challenge ourselves more on how much water we actually need to use,” Environment Minister Therese Coffey said.
“While water companies must lead the way in reducing leakage, using water efficiently will help ensure we all have enough water for our homes, to produce food, products and services - and to protect our valuable natural environment for the next generation."
According to Defra, the average UK resident currently uses 141 litres of water per day – a figure which does not account for the water footprint of the products and services they consume. Recent research by the National Infrastructure Commission, supported by the EA, has suggested that this trajectory could result in England reaching its “Day Zero” for water in 2050.
The consultation will run until 11 October. Information can be found and responses can be submitted here.
The UN estimates that 1.2 billion people, or one-fifth of the world’s population, are suffering from the adverse effects of water scarcity. Similarly, The Global Water Institute estimates that 700 million people in 43 countries suffer from the effects of water scarcity, with UNESCO predicting that this figure will rise to 1.8 billion by 2025 if no action is taken.
While the issue may seem like one which will only affect developing nations in some of the warmest regions, around 63% of cities globally are now warning of future risks relating to water supply, many of which will be exacerbated by rising temperatures and growing populations.
The good news is that businesses in the UK are increasingly beginning to take ambitious action to safeguard citizens and businesses from this risk.
Last September, for example, nine of the UK's largest water firms, along with 20 NGOs, joined together to create a set of "shared principles" to improve the health of the environment. These cover a huge range of environmental issues – from tackling pollution by “unflushables” like baby wipes, to natural water filtering, to working with farmers on more environmentally friendly agricultural techniques.
And to incentivise further action, Blueprint for Water, part of the Wildlife and Countryside Link – the largest environment coalition in England – publishes sustainable water “scorecards” on an annual basis, ranking water utilities on their efforts to conserve nature and promote social sustainability.
Moreover, a group of 10 water jointly launched a new innovation fund aimed at supporting green solutions to climate change, population growth and leaks this April. Since then, Thames Water has begun offering cashback to retailers working to minimise their water consumption.