UK Government dispands advisory panel on reducing water demand

A group of senior water sector figures working to address demand management challenges has been disbanded in the same week that a drought was declared across much of the country.

UK Government dispands advisory panel on reducing water demand

Pictured: Penygarreg Reservoir, Elan Valley, Wales, during low t

The Senior Water Demand Reduction Group (SWDRG) was formed in 2020 at the request of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to advise Government departments and regulators on water demand management.

In its short existence, SWDRG issued a report to Defra and Ofwat that said water efficiency should be at the heart of action to address the looming water deficit of four billion litres per day by 2050. The report called for greater ambition for demand targets than the Environment Act included. Ratified in October 2021, the Act includes a new ambition to cut the use of water in England, on a per-person basis, by 20% by 2037.

Waterwise chief executive Nicci Russell, who chaired the SWDRG, said: “Unfortunately, against the advice of the group, the former minister (Rebecca Pow) told us that she believes measures already in train in England will be enough to tackle the [water] deficit. Similarly, we have seen little evidence of Ofwat engaging with the group’s recommendations for its own regulation, particularly in setting the next price review for water companies through PR24 (the 2024 price review for the water sector).”

Following some back and forth between the group and government, the SWDRG noted that political and regulatory appetite was a barrier to progress on managing demand.

It also highlighted the absence of any budget for commissioning new work, which it noted was in contrast to the “significant budget allocated to the Regulators’ Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development (RAPID) to drive supply-side measures”.

Russell thanked the group for the work it had done and said responsibility for action was beyond the water companies alone.

“The SWDRG has been clear all along that existing commitments will not be enough to do this. We put some flags in the ground in the hope that they will be picked up,” she said. “It’s a no-brainer to factor the contribution from large-scale water efficiency into the climate crisis – for one, it can help reduce energy bills, in the current cost of living crisis.”

She urged Defra, regulators and water companies to invest in greater water efficiency, adding: “We are all responsible for taking action.”

Group deputy chair Sarah McMath, chief executive of  Market Operator of England’s Non-Household Water Market (MOSL), added: “Our work must continue. With the ongoing changes to the political landscape in England and extreme periods of hot weather and drought expected, we urge Ministers to continue to focus on the long-term and the demand challenges we face as a nation, whilst managing the very real impact of climate change, the cost-of-living crisis and increasing population growth. It is essential that our future water supplies are secured, and that the environment remains top of the agenda.”

She called for a “top-down driven” shift in customer behaviour together with investment to enable the water industry to develop and implement innovative and long-term solutions for customers and the environment.

Ruth Willams

This article first appeared on edie’s sister title Utility Week

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