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Where is our water coming from?

Where is our water coming from? WildFish Deputy CEO Janina Gray and Water Policy Officer James Overington discuss the launch of their new campaign around the water resources management plans.

June 2023

Every five years we are able to get a glimpse into the state of our water resources via water companies’ Water Resources Management Plans (WRMPs). The plans are typically long, technical and data heavy, but lack clarity around over-abstraction, supply deficits and drought measures. Very few members of the public know the plans exist – let alone read them! This allows the true state of our water resources to be masked.

Consequently, WildFish have launched a series of interactive maps illustrating the state of England’s water resources and unpreparedness for drought. The maps show supply and demand data, through a traffic light format, across England during a baseline drought. This will help highlight which of our water supplies are already at risk and which will get worse without adequate water company intervention. And the truth is scary. England’s current water supply deficit, during a baseline drought is approximately 500 million litres-a-day. This water supply deficit is expected to reach over a billion litres-a-day by 2030. That is equivalent to the water use of 10% of the population daily.

Campaigning for improved WRMPs

Alongside the maps, WildFish has submitted a letter to the Secretary of State, co-signed by a number of Wildlife and Countryside Link member organisations, requesting improved clarity in final WRMPs – due out in late 2023. The letter’s principal ask is for WRMPs to accurately convey ‘where our water is coming from’ now and in the future.

WildFish’s analysis of WRMPs identified a reliance on river and groundwater abstractions over the next 25 years to maintain water supplies. In times of drought, this dependency on rivers and lakes only increases which could be ecologically catastrophic.

Less water in rivers means:

  • Fish are less able to migrate up and down rivers to complete their life cycles.
  • Pollutants in the water become more concentrated because of the lack of dilution.
  • Increased sedimentation clogs up riverbeds and fish spawning sites (redds).
  • Reduced shelter and food availability.
  • Water temperatures increase and oxygen levels decrease.

This was not clearly or accurately presented in WRMPs.

People and the environment are already experiencing the impacts of drought

The prolonged dry weather and seasonal population increase in the South West resulted in conditions that caused South West Water’s current WRMP to fail last summer. As a result of its unpreparedness, South West Water abstracted an additional nine billion litres of water from lakes and rivers in the South West. We are yet to fully understand the ecological impacts. Since August 2022, South West Water’s customers in Cornwall and Devon have received a reduced level of service due to Temporary Use Bans.

Situations like this will only become more common without transparency on the figures - preventing consultees from making informed decisions and driving immediate action. Years of underinvestment in supply solutions (reservoirs, water recycling and desalination plants) by the water industry means we must fast track the timelines for supply solutions if we are serious about protecting our rivers and wildlife.

Please share!

Please signpost your supporters and staff to the maps. We need to start talking about water resources. Currently there are very low response rates to WRMPs consultations. We need to change this. We are encouraging people to write to their local MP and ask, ‘where their water is coming from’ and assure it’s not coming at a huge ecological cost. One thing that is clear from the draft WRMPs, is personal water consumption reduction will be essential to reduce water supply demands in the future. However, if the public is unaware of the problem and ecological consequences why would they alter their behaviour to be part of the solution?

Janina Gray is Deputy CEO at WildFish. James Overington is Water Policy Officer at WildFish.  

Follow @WildFishCons on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the authors' and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.