England at serious risk of water shortage by 2040, MPs warn

10th July 2020 | Water

England is at “serious risk” of running out of water within 20 years because of policymakers’, regulators and the water sector’s failure to tackle leakage and align with net-zero. That is according to a demining new report from the Public Accounts Committee, as part of its inquiry into the UK’s water sector and infrastructure.

The report reveals that around one-fifth of the volume of water used in the UK every day is lost to leakage – a proportion which has not decreased within the past 20 years. Ofwat is predicting leakage to reduce by 16% within the next five years, but the Committee is not confident that water firms are undertaking the appropriate measurement and investment to meet this target. “No one organisation has got a thorough grip on dealing with this issue and driving the change necessary,” the report states.

Water shortage

If this issue is not addressed as a matter of urgency, the Committee warns, England is likely to face sweeping water shortages within two decades as the population grows, urbanisation continues and the climate warms. On the latter piece, the Committee also expressed concerns about the water sector’s approach to the UK’s 2050 net-zero target. August 2019 saw the UK’s nine major water and sewage services firms commit to reaching net-zero by 2030 and, shortly after, the Environment Agency followed suit. While praising their ambition, the Committee is concerned that water companies will need to build new energy-intensive infrastructure as they modernizer, and that the sector has not developed a clear roadmap for addressing the resulting emissions.

Also of concern is the sector’s ability to adapt to climate change which is already ‘baled-in’. Water UK has told MPs that it is working with Defra, the EA, Ofwat and all major companies to address this challenge. “It is very hard to imagine, in this country, turning the tap and not having enough clean, drinkable water come out – but that is exactly what we now face,” Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier MP said. “Empty words on climate commitments and unfunded public information campaigns will get us where we’ve got the last 20 years: nowhere. Degra has failed to lead and water companies have failed to act. We look now to the Department to step up and make up for lost time before it’s too late.”

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