National Infrastructure Commission report wants real progress made on water efficiency

The National Infrastructure Commission has said more needs to be done on water resilience in the UK to withstand a future extreme drought
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The National Infrastructure Commission has released its 2021 report into the United Kingdom’s infrastructure policy and planning, calling on the water industry to make “real progress” on water efficiency.

There was praise from the Commission for the way in which the industry have worked with government and regulators to manage and plan for water resources. The report added that this spirit of co-operation now needs to be matched by a strategy to deliver a reduction in demand for water.

With the twin threats of climate change and population growth increasing pressure on the nation’s water infrastructure, analysis carried out by the Commission suggests that additional water supply and demand reduction totalling 4,000 million litres per day should be delivered by 2050.

This would avoid the risk of water shortages and ensure that the public water supply can withstand an extreme drought in the future. There is a one in four chance of such a weather event occurring between now and 2050.

According to the report, boosting resilience costs half of the estimated £40 billion which would be needed to fund emergency measures and a response should an extreme drought hit the UK.

To reduce the risk of drought, the Commission has recommended a twin-track approach of managing demand and enhancing supplies. The report says that a target of saving 118 litres per person per day should be achievable by 2050 whilst the National Framework for Water Resources believes 110 litres can be saved.

How these reductions are reached remains less clear. Water companies have introduced campaigns to try and highlight awareness, for example encouraging the public to spend less time in the shower or to not run the tap whilst brushing their teeth.

The report states that the government is yet to offer much support to the water industry in reducing consumption having committed to publishing its next steps on the issue following a consultation on water efficiency held in 2019.

One measure recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission to help control consumption is compulsory water meters. By charging every household for their usage rather than a set amount based on a properties rateable value as it was 30 years ago, it is presumed that people will be more aware of how much water they are using.

This in turn would lead to adjustments in behaviour to incur lower bills. A survey in 2020 revealed that 78 percent of Brits did not know how much water they used on a daily basis, showing the potential savings that could be made.

For enhancing supply, the commission recommended the continued development of new water resources. Reservoirs such as the planned development at Havant Thicket will increase supplies in areas of serious water stress like the south east.

Havant Thicket will supply both Portsmouth Water and Southern Water customers in Hampshire and parts of Sussex. The reservoir is a joint venture between the two companies, highlighting the benefits of collaboration between water companies.

The Commission also wants to see more water transfer schemes whereby surplus supplies in well-stocked areas are diverted via pipelines to heavily populated areas where demand is close to outstripping supply.

Anglian Water are working on one such scheme, a 310 mile pipeline taking water from North Lincolnshire to Essex. The report said that more strategic alliances involving multiple companies working together to build resilience should be encouraged. It praised Ofwat for their £469 million allowance for such projects to take please.

Finally, the report highlighted the work being done to cut the amount of water lost on the public supply network. The industry is adopting new technologies to identify leaks more quickly, thus reducing leakage levels.

Composite pipe repair kits are increasingly being used in place of pipe repair clamps as they enable even the most challenging of leaks to be repaired. With a composite pipe repair system, flexible, permanent repairs can be made to pipes of any size or type within hours of the leak being detected.

The water industry has already committed to reducing leaks by 16 percent before 2025. That is part of a wider target of halving the 2,954 million litres lost every day in 2020 by 2050. The report said it was too early to say how much progress was being made one year into the plan, but that a seven percent reduction between April 2019 and March 2020 was a positive sign.

You can read the full report on the National Infrastructure Commission website.

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