If action isn’t taken to cut down on water use in England, the country will face water shortages and damage to rivers and wildlife by 2050, according to a new report by the Environment Agency (EA).
The agency has warned that people need to use less water, while companies must take action to stop so much water being lost to leaks.
Currently, 3 billion litres of water are being lost every day to leaky pipes, according to the report. That’s about the same amount of water used on a daily basis by more than 20 million people.
"We need to change our attitudes to water use," said Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the EA. "It is the most fundamental thing needed to ensure a healthy environment but we are taking too much of it and have to work together to manage this precious resource."
This is the first major report on water resources in England, and it showed that 9,500 billion litres of fresh water were abstracted from the country’s water resources in 2016, to be used for households, industry, and agriculture.
For context, that’s enough water to cover the whole of Greater London in nearly 6 metres of water, according to the Guardian.
Of the water abstracted, however, about one-third is wasted through a combination of household waste, leaks, and losses in the treatment process.
And England’s water system is already struggling to keep up with demand. The amount of water taken out of the environment was already unsustainable in 2017 for more than a quarter (28%) of groundwater resources, and almost a fifth (18%) of surface water such as rivers, according to the report.
Taking too much water can harm wildlife and damage the important habitat of wetlands, the report said. Previous unsustainable abstraction in 2016 meant that up to 15% of rivers weren’t meeting good ecological status.
But the problem is set to get worse if something isn’t done, with England’s population expected to rise to 58.5 million by 2026. It’s about 53 million at the moment.
Climate change is also expected to take a toll on England’s water resources, with droughts and high temperatures predicted to decrease water resources in the summer, and rainfall and flooding in the winter expected to increase river flows.
The agency is targeting both individuals and companies in its call to action.
“Industry must innovate and change behaviours in order to reduce demand and cut down on wastage — and we all have a duty to use water more wisely at home,” Howard Boyd added. “With demand on the rise, water companies must invest more in infrastructure to address leakage instead of relying on abstraction and the natural environment to make up this shortfall.”
The EA has said it will also work with government and industry to work out a personal consumption target for households and find cost-effective measures to meet it, according to the BBC. Currently, the average person uses about 140 litres of water every day.
In response to the report, a spokesperson for Water UK told the BBC that “the water industry works hard to protect the environment, and companies will set out ambitious plans later this year which should mean less water is taken out of our rivers...
“We’ve also cut leakage by one-third since the 1990s, but we know there’s a lot more to do — which is why it’s one of our top priorities,” he added.
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