Population growth and a changing climate are not only significant but also common challenges for all of us that rely on water for our business, for our food, our health and the quality of our local environment. According to the UK’s 2012 Climate Change Risk Assessment “by the 2080s almost the whole UK population may be living in areas affected by a supply-demand deficit unless significant action is taken both to reduce the demand for water and to increase supplies.”
Anglian Water operates in one of the fastest growing regions of the UK, in an area of water stress that contains many wetland and conservation sites of national and international importance. To meet the needs of customers and the environment, we need to plan and invest to maintain the balance between supply and demand.
We work in five year investment cycles and our programme of work for 2010-15 is now almost complete. Over £2 billion has been invested, including a large number of demand management initiatives, new sources of supply and transfer schemes from areas of surplus to areas of deficit. We have also invested to increase the resilience of our supply system, both to drought and the risk and effect of the failure (including flooding) of some of our most important water and water recycling treatment works.
Looking to the future, our ability to maintain the balance between supply and demand is challenged by climate change, population growth and the need to reduce abstraction to protect the environment. As part of this we need to consider how the extremes of weather are changing and prepare for multi-season droughts – those that would see three dry winters in a row.
But this is not an issue for us in isolation; we recognise we can’t address all this on our own, but need other water users from agriculture and industry to address them with us, alongside our regulators and experts from the environmental and natural capital fields.
We are part of the Water Resources East Anglia (WREA) group, a collaborative approach to dealing with these issues, bringing together the East of England’s water companies, farmers, environmental groups and regulators, to develop a long term, joined-up plan.
It will look at long term options, including winter storage reservoirs, desalination, water reuse, aquifer storage and recovery, water grids and trading as well as significant and lasting reductions in leakage and in people’s consumption. The plan will be to use new and very robust modelling and decision-making methods to make sure any investment is appropriate and effective, while the costs, risks and benefits will be shared.
And it’s not just water quantity issues that can be approached through collaboration. Managing water quality in the landscape (nitrates, phosphates and pesticides) instead of through expensive, carbon-intensive water treatment benefits the environment and helps us to keep customers’ bills down. Through the Natural Capital Leaders Platform, and previous projects that we have worked on with the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), we have seen that there is real interest across the sectors to explore new ways to manage the land, rivers and aquifers we all rely on. On the ground this requires close working between landowners, famers, local communities, water companies and their regulators.
We believe that the sustainable use of one of the most important elements of natural capital, water, can reduce cost to us and our customers, reduce risk and create resilience to a changing climate, and enable growth (and wealth) in our region. Through that we want to reconnect people with the water cycle and demonstrate that we all benefit from getting this right.
We want to ensure that everyone – customers, farmers and businesses – understand the importance of water to a thriving, vibrant economy, to a healthy and diverse environment and to our own quality of life. Most importantly, we must all feel able to play a positive part in a sustainable future. If we can achieve this then we really will have put water at the heart of a whole new way of living.