Drought report: government needs to set national minimum levels of resilience

The UK and Welsh Governments should set national minimum levels of resilience against drought. That was one of the key findings of a report published on Tuesday by Water UK, following an extensive research project led by Anglian Water’s regulation director Jean Spencer and delivered by an independent consortium of Atkins, Mott MacDonald, Nera, HR Wallingford and Oxford University.

The findings make bleak reading. In scope are longer, more frequent and more acute droughts than previously modelled, with south and east England facing a higher risk of more severe droughts than those experienced in the past, and the north and west more exposed to the prospect of future water shortages. The authors argue that while companies need to continue engaging with their customers on a local level, political direction on water company levels of resilience is a matter of public interest and public policy – for instance, because the availability of water to agriculture depends upon the resilience of public water supply which takes precedence in times of stress.

In brighter news, the researchers calculate the additional cost of making water supplies more resilient to severe droughts would be modest at around £4 per annum per household. This massively outweighs the potential impact on the economy of inaction, which is estimated to be £1.3 billion per day during the most widespread situations of severe drought modelled.

The report endorses a twin track approach to increasing resilience, under which ambitious demand side measures are pursued first, followed by supply enhancements. A key feature of the latter should be water transfer schemes, ranging from local initiatives to strategic schemes that use the River Severn and River Trent to carry water across to the south and east.

Full analysis of the findings will be in THE WATER REPORT’s October edition.