The National Audit Office (NAO) has warned that current policy and regulation are falling short of what is required to avoid the "impending risk" of water shortages in the UK.
In its report, Water supply and demand management, the NAO said the fact that water water resource management plans only cover half the current demand – pubic use – the government was unable to forecast accurately. And while a national framework from the Environment Agency requires the water firms to engage with the power sector, agriculture and other industrial users who make up the other half of total demand "most companies have little experience of doing so."
The report criticises Defra for failing to guide water companies on how they might intervene or share best practice to improve resilience on the grounds that they are private businesses. Defra said private ownership "does not need to preclude Defra providing useful guidance."
Chief executive of the NAO, Gareth Davies, said: “The government has made limited progress on reducing water consumption, tackling leakage and sharing water resources between regions in the last five years, but rapid progress is now vital for the government to deliver its objective of a resilient water supply. Defra needs to provide stronger leadership to water companies, regulators and consumers.”
The report highlighted the EA's advice to Defra that "work was needed to provide a clear evidence base to support the water planning process and that a lack of knowledge of the costs and benefits of actions to mitigate water shortages was a barrier to progress ." The report said the government was "only now starting to address barriers to progress" in bulk water transfers.
Elsewhere in the report the NAO says the investment in increasing resources including infrastructure to enable water rich regions to share resources with water poor one, do not easily fit within Ofwat’s five-year price review cycle because of the time needed for construction. And it criticises Defra for failing to achieve it 2018 ambition to settle a target for personal water consumption.
The watchdog came down hard water industry efforts to promote efficient use of water saying there was "no evidence this has any impact on consumers’ behaviour, and average consumption continues to rise."
It continued: "There is little public awareness of the need to reduce personal consumption or understanding of how to do so." And on the Environment Agency and Water UK-led "Love Water" campaign to raise awareness of water efficiency it said "other than a Twitter feed, there has been no further activity since its launch."