Published: Thu, March 21, 2019
Science | By

The Times view on United Kingdom water shortages: Wet Rot

The Times view on United Kingdom water shortages: Wet Rot

Factors like climate change and population growth mean the country is facing the real prospect in a few decades of reaching the "jaws of death", according to Sir James Bevan.

"The jaws of death (is) the point at which, unless we take action to change things, we will not have enough water to supply our needs", Bevan told a London water conference.

In conjunction with a rapidly warming climate, by 2050 water supply could be down by 10-15%, with some rivers seeing 50%-80% less water during the summer months.

The UK's population is now 67 million.

"Demand for water will rise as the population grows, whilst water supply is likely to reduce as the effects of climate change kick in", Bevan said.

Sir Bevan suggested demand can be reduced by tackling leakage, more water metering, sustainable drainage systems, new building regulations to drive greater water efficiency, and finding ways to cut down the amount of water we use. Now only 4% of water supplies are transferred between water companies. A consultation on the draft statement closed in January.

But, added Bevan, it was still possible to bring things under control.


England is set to run short of water within 25 years, the chief executive of the Environment Agency has warned.

Stuart Fegan, national officer for GMB - which represents water firm workers - said: 'When the Environment Agency issues dire warnings about the United Kingdom running out of water we need to listen'. Just four per cent of current supplies are transferred between individual water companies, but there are plans for 20 new transfer projects.

"We will need to build more desalination plants".

But he said while there will be "political challenges" there should be "less difficulty" over the economics. "That's because the investment needed to build the infrastructure we need to increase our resilience is modest compared with the cost of not doing it". "The first line shows predicted water demand over the next several decades in the region the water company serves: and in all the water company plans this line goes up, as more people, homes, and businesses appear over time".

People in England now use an average of 140 litres per day, but Sir James wants them to cut it down to 100 litres - the target set by campaign group Waterwise.

"Government proposals to reform water abstraction and improve water management are necessary if we are to balance the needs of people and the natural environment", he said.

Alongside action being taken by the government, water companies and regulators, Sir James wants the public to use less water, and use it more efficiently.

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