How close to a water drought are we in the UK?

Lauren Lee

Lauren Lee
Senior Consultant, Assurity Consulting
7th September 2018

According to the UN, climate change, population growth and consumption will likely result in two thirds of the global population facing a lack of sufficient water resources by 2025. A BBC study, released in February 2018, placed London 9th out of 15th in the world most likely to run out of drinking water by 2025.

Cape Town is currently experiencing an extreme drought; its reservoirs were at just 26% capacity in January 2018. This is possibly as a result of climate change and population growth which has soared by 80% between 1995 and 2018.

In preparation of an extreme drought, the UK would need to make some big changes in the water industry, to increase supply and reduce demand. Loss of water supplies will have a ripple effect on both society and the economy. For example, a lack of water will affect firefighting systems, resulting in high risk areas having to close, such as train stations. Construction sites would also have to shut down if there is no means of dust suppression. But there are things we can do to reduce the risk, but this got me thinking about what impact it would have on people and managing our buildings:

  • Reduce personal consumption;

The South East of England use, on average, 140 litres of water per person, whereas recently Cape Town has been restricted to 50 litres per person. This is equivalent to a 2 minute shower and one flush of the toilet per day, and one clothes wash per week. This is then averaged over a month and if this usage allowance is exceeded, the water bill is increased by 10 fold. What impact would this have on building management? Could we still implement suitable control measures for minimising bacterial growth?

  • Reduce incoming mains pressure below the statutory minimum;

This could result in a lack of water for private dwellings in high rise buildings that don’t have cold water tanks or separate pump sets. This could also affect pump sets by introducing air locks. Is this sustainable for specialist systems such as the cooling of data centres or even firefighting systems?

  • Provide non-potable water for bathing and hygiene use;

The UK is surrounded by water, so couldn’t we use brackish water for our daily requirements? A decision would have to be made by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) as to whether we can lower regulations for non-potable consumption. If this were the case, what would we sample our systems for? The wholesomeness of water is currently tightly regulated in that water providers cannot alter the taste or hardness of the water.

  • Connect Severn Trent water supply to the South East of England;

Rainfall in the West of England is greater than that of the East. However, there is currently no pipework available to transport the water, so this would have to be done by trucks. This could also change the wholesomeness of the water, which as mentioned earlier contravenes drinking water regulations.

None of the above options are ideal situations, however extreme drought in the South of England will occur, we just don’t know when. Impacts on society and the economy will be significant and planning is difficult and complicated, however it’s better to be prepared. There is a huge amount of work to do to impart the value of water into society. We need short, medium and long term planning and investment for London to make sure it is resilient and we need our regulators to be on board with the waivers on water quality and wholesomeness.