The idea of a water shortage in the UK seems unthinkable, our country is renowned for its wet weather. Rain is a staple of conversation here, especially in the summer. However a future where our water supply struggles and even fails to meet our demand may not be so farfetched after all. In this article we’ll take a look at how climate change might affect our water supply and what can and should be done to prevent the unthinkable from happening.
Anthropogenic climate change will have several devastating effects on the globe and on the UK. Change in local climate being one of them. But how will this affect our water supplies in future? According to Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the environment agency, badly. During the waterwise conference in London in 2019 Sir James made some dire predictions about the state of UK water within the next 25 years. Within this timeframe a water shortage is likely to become an ‘existential threat’ to the country as we run out of water for our needs. The two main drivers are the aforementioned climate change and population growth. Change in climate will lead to wetter winters and much drier summers. According to the Met office nine out of the 10 warmest years on record have happened since 2002.
The other key factor is population growth. The UK’s population is expected to grow by an estimated 8 million in the next 30 years. This combined with the shrinking reserves due to climate change is the recipe for disaster which Sir James is warning about. Currently in the UK, the average person uses 143 litres per day. It is important to note that this increases as temperatures increase. The combination of more people and higher summer temperatures is expected to overwhelm water sources in future.
How this will affect the UK?
In a severe drought the cost to a household can be more than £100 per year. In a water shortage, other than the obvious lack of water for drinking and domestic use, there will also be an enormous impact on agriculture. With summer droughts occurring more regularly farmers increasingly rely on irrigation to maintain their crops. With a dwindling supply this would become more and more difficult leading to significant losses in crop yield. Healthcare and manufacturing businesses will also be severely affected by water shortages of this kind. The issue is certainly not one to be trifled with.
What can be done?
So what can be done to avert this impending problem? Professor James suggests a two-pronged approach. The first focusing on personal responsibility by reducing the amount of water people use on a day to day basis. The suggestion by waterwise is to reduce consumption to 100 litres a day, by having shorter showers instead of long baths among other suggestions. The other focus is on improving supply. Done by increasing the reserves of water and improving the efficiency of the existing supply by stopping leaks. To add more water to the system new reservoirs will need to be built in conjunction with the use of desalination plants.The cost to implement these proposals would end up being approximately £4 per year per household a significant reduction when compared to the figure assuming nothing is done.
Climate change is an issue at the forefront of everyone’s minds. But many of the knock-on effects also need to be considered. The key takeaway from Professor James and the environment agency is that future water shortages can be avoided if action is taken now.