The U.K. is facing a severe water crisis. At the Waterwise Conference in London this week, Sir James Bevan—the chief executive of the Environment Agency—warned the nation that it could experience drastic water shortages in just 20 to 25 years. The data he shared represented “the jaws of death—the point at which, unless we take action to change things, we will not have enough water to supply our needs.”
Population growth was cited as one reason for the impending shortage. The U.K.’s population is expected to increase from 67 million to 75 million by 2020; an 8 million increase in just three decades. This population increase will lead to higher demand on an already strained supply.
A key proposal to reduce water usage was an appeal to the public to shift their attitude about water conservation, just as they have in the past decades regarding smoking, seatbelts, and plastics. “In the past two years, we’ve changed our behavior on plastic. We need water wastage to be as socially unacceptable as throwing your plastic bags in the sea,” stated Bevan. He believes if citizens took responsibility for their water usage, they could reduce their daily use from 140 liters per day to 100 liters.
In addition to growth, Bevan cited climate change as the other principal strain on water availability. Rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and groundwater store available fresh water. However, climate change is leading to hotter and drier summers, reducing some rivers and lakes by 10-15%. It's estimated that by 2040, the U.K. could experience summers hotter than their 2003 record heatwave. Although winters have seen increased rainfall, summers have been drastically drier risking droughts and floods.
To maximize the available water supply, Bevan recommended desalination plants, regional water transfers, and controversial water reservoirs. A new reservoir has not been built in decades due to planning and legal hurdles, as well as fierce local opposition. In addition to new resources, old infrastructure must be repaired. Three billion liters of water a day are lost to leakage, which is enough to supply 20 million people.
Bevan believes that if all organizations involved work together, they could avoid the jaws of death. “We cannot afford complacency. So, let’s also agree that we all need to up our game,” he roused to the stakeholders present at the conference.