Anglian Water’s director of regulation Jean Spencer, chair a water industry project looking at the future of water resources in the UK, writes about an important new report, the Water Resources Long Term Planning Framework, which looks forward 50 years. She spoke about it at the Conservative Party Conference and we will be enagaging with stakeholders and politicians from all sides in the comes weeks and months on this vital issue.
Providing safe, clean water is at the heart of what water companies do. Since privatisation, the industry has invested billions of pounds in securing the nation’s precious water resources. However, mains water cannot be guaranteed even today, and this is a problem that will become more severe.
Earlier this year, the Government challenged the water industry to understand more fully the future challenges and solutions in terms of our resilience to the risk of drought. The industry has enthusiastically responded with what we believe to be the fullest study of national water resource availability and pressures ever undertaken in this country.
This work, by independent consultants and peer reviewed by a panel of leading experts, has found that the problem is even more pronounced than had been thought. If we carry on with “business as usual”, droughts are likely to become both more frequent and more geographically widespread than previously understood.
The water industry is committed to continue playing its full part in addressing these challenges, but it cannot solve the problem alone. We will have to work in close partnership with customers, Government, regulators, the National Infrastructure Commission, and with our partners throughout the sector.
We will also need every tool in the box. We will need more efficient use of water at home, in business and in agriculture. We will need to reduce leakage further. We will need a new approach to sharing water across regions, bearing in mind that increasing resilience in one area may affect the level of resilience in another. We will need new sources of supply and new storage. We will need tried and tested techniques, and new and emerging technologies such as smart meters.
Customers as always need to be at the heart of our response. The industry is exploring how best to engage customers on long term issues, such as resilience. Whilst the scale of ambition will be considerable, increasing resilience in this way should not require unaffordable changes in bills if we take this work forward on a collective and timely basis. Water can remain affordable for customers, and rightly so, given that it is essential to life.
Ultimately, how we respond to the prospect of more frequent and more severe water shortages depends on the country’s appetite for risk. As that prospect cannot be eliminated entirely, it is important for government to establish what is acceptable in terms of levels of resilience to drought, thereby informing the policy, planning, regulatory and implementation priorities for the water sector. We hope this report will help shape that debate and the actions which flow from it.