In the annual State of the Nation report, the Institution of Civil Engineers points to effluent reuse as “one radical solution to combat the UK’s long term water crisis.”

Other suggested solutions to the shortages that made themselves felt most severely in southern England over the summer months range from pipe replacement, a new water resource strategy and new reservoirs to desalination plants and the transport of water from wet regions like mid-Wales to dry, high demand areas like the South East.

The ICE’s water board chairman John Lawson said: “Parts of the UK are experiencing long term water shortages, so we need a range of solutions to keep the water running. Effluent reuse is still a relatively untapped way of providing drinking water to meet growing long term needs.”

The ‘recycling’ of effluent for drinking water is not new to the UK – Essex and Suffolk Water have been reusing treated sewage since 2003, according to the Consumer Council for Water.

The ‘effluent recycling’ process involves clarifying, filtering and disinfecting sewage with UV light before discharging it into rivers, and after further purification reused as drinking water.

The result is clean water, but the process has been raising controversy in some parts of the world, such as drought-stricken Australia where protesters have taken to the streets to express their opposition to “drinking sewage.”

Although UK consumers seem comfortable with water companies’ assurance that ‘recycled’ water is clean, the Consumer Council for Water said that suppliers should focus on more mundane measures such as fixing leaking pipes before resorting to water recycling.

Apart from these supply-end measures the engineers’ body also proposes demand-curbing techniques like compulsory water metering as a favoured option for water-scarce areas like the South East.

To finance these changes, without which we risk running out of water in the drier parts of the country, the engineers call for a substantial increase in investment in water infrastructure.

Water companies need to invest at least 20% more in infrastructure to meet rising demand, they said – noting that the money will have to come from water customers’ pockets.

John Lawson said: “Water consumer prices will have to rise to pay for new infrastructure – an uncomfortable fact customers, the Government and regulators must recognise. We currently pay less for our water than many of our European neighbours – something that will have to change to keep out taps from running dry. The UK must invest in new water resources to ensure a constant supply.”

For the full State of the Nation report see here.

Goska Romanowicz

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