UK Warns Users to Reduce Water Consumption

Consumers and businesses must reduce their water use to help avert severe shortages due to future climate change and population growth, the United Kingdom's Environment Agency has warned.

Publishing its "Water Resources Strategy for England and Wales," the Environment Agency announced on March 30 it has set out measures that should be implemented to help protect water resources to 2050 and beyond, including the universal metering of households, a review of the structure of the water industry, and actions to reduce water consumption to help lower the country's carbon emissions.

Water resources are already under pressure in many parts of the country, with some 25 million people living in areas where there is less available water per person than Spain or Morocco. The average Briton currently uses 148 liters (some 260 pints) every day.

Although climate change will lead to more frequent heavy downpours and increase the risk of flooding, overall it will reduce the amount of water available in rivers in England and Wales by 10 to 15 percent by 2050, and up to as much as 80 percent during summer months, the news release said.

This, along with a potential 20 million increase in the population of England and Wales, will put even greater pressure on the country's limited water supplies. By 2020, demand for water could rise by five percent or 800 million liters every day.

The Environment Agency's water resource strategy sets out key recommendations that include:

  • Water companies need to implement near-universal water metering of households, prioritizing the most water stressed areas of England;
  • Metering should be accompanied by suitable tariffs to provide an incentive to reduce use and to protect vulnerable groups.
  • A complete review of the way the water industry is regulated. Stronger incentives should be introduced that reward water companies for reducing the amount of water provided;
  • A review of the structure of the water industry to enable better sharing of water across company boundaries;
  • The production and delivery of water reduction targets for different categories of use (for example, the food industry already has a target of a 20 percent water demand reduction by 2020).
  • A possible reduction or removal of value added tax on water efficient products such as washing machines to influence consumer choice and to make water efficiency a bigger factor in buying decisions;
  • An enhanced and extended water efficiency labeling system for all appliances that use water;
  • More stringent water efficiency standards for fixtures, fittings and appliances;
  • Tighter water efficiency standards in planning conditions for new buildings in areas where water resources are under most pressure.

The Environment Agency's new strategy also highlights the close link between water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The transport, heating and treatment of water accounts for over six per cent of the UK's carbon footprint - greater than aviation in the UK - and the near-universal metering of households in England and Wales could reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to between 27 and 40 per cent of the total UK Carbon Reduction Commitment target.

In addition to reducing the UK's carbon footprint, reducing demand for water will help protect wetland habitats and wildlife, as well as helping to ensure that there is enough water for people and the environment in the face of climate change.

The Environment Agency's Chief Executive, Dr. Paul Leinster, said: "Water is essential for life and vital to our economy. But climate change and population growth mean there may not be enough water in England and Wales in the future for people and the environment unless we start planning and acting now.

"People and businesses need to use less water and wasting water needs to cost a lot more. The proposals in our new strategy cover actions that need to be taken by water companies, Government, regulators, businesses and the public, and we need a joined up approach to this problem to prevent it becoming a crisis."

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