River levels will dip by middle of century

The flow of water in the UK's rivers during the summer months could halve by the middle of the century, putting stress on wildlife and the wider environment.

This is the conclusion of research conducted by the Environment Agency which suggests that climate change alone, rather than increased demand from housing and industry, could dramatically slash flow by as much as 80% in some places.

The study makes round-the-year predictions of how climate change is likely to impact on water flow in the rivers of England and Wales.

While things do not look so bleak in the midwinter – when on average we are likely to see slightly more water coming downs our rivers than we get today – things look pretty bad for late summer and early autumn, when flow is likely to fall by around 50%, though the fall could be even more sever in some places.

The predicted regional differences in the timing of low flows will see Wales, the north of England and the west of England short of water in the late summer but recovering by mid-autumn, while low flows in the south and east of England are likely to extend well into the autumn with even November river flows dropping to almost half their current volume.

The EA says it will use the maps of river flow projections it has produced along with other emerging research to look at the extent and likelihood of impacts on water quality to plan what actions we and others should take.

Dr Paul Leinster, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, said: “This ground-breaking research provides significant information on the effect of climate change on river flows, water quality and wildlife.

“The maps suggest a much harsher future for the environment across England and Wales. To be sure we can cope with the kind of changes expected, we must act now.”

“The demand for water is also forecast to increase which will only add to the increased pressure on the environment.

“Water companies already take account of climate change in their long-term plans for providing secure supplies. However, this study reinforces the need for us all to play our part in using water wisely.

“We will publish a new Water Resources Strategy early in 2009 setting out the actions which we and others will need to take to make sure there is enough water for people and the environment.”

Sam Bond

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