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Water: Shortages

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN HL14677, tabled on 19 March 2019

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to address a potential long-term water shortage in the UK.

Answered on

2 April 2019

The Government is working closely with other water regulators and the water industry to improve the resilience of water supplies. The Government recognises action is required and it is committed to a ‘twin track approach’, of reducing demand for water and increasing supply in parallel.

Water companies have a statutory duty to provide clean and reliable water to customers under the Water Industry Act 1991 and to fulfil this duty there is a statutory requirement to plan to balance water supply and demand at least twenty-five years in to the future. The Government, the Environment Agency and Ofwat issued guidance to water companies in 2016 on how they should be planning to be resilient to foreseeable risks, including taking appropriate action to respond to climate change projections and population growth.

The Government and regulators have challenged the companies when reviewing their draft plans and have made clear that companies should set challenging customer consumption figures, reduce leakage at least 15% by 2025 and by half by 2050 and bring forward supply schemes where necessary. Water companies have been revising their plans and they will finalise them this year.

The Government knows that reducing water demand alone will not be enough; the country requires a mix of new large and small water supply solutions. In the case of large infrastructure, the Government’s National Policy Statement for water resources infrastructure, currently undergoing parliamentary scrutiny, will streamline the process of gaining planning permission for nationally significant infrastructure projects that are needed to improve the long term resilience of water supplies.

Looking further ahead the Government will launch a call for evidence on setting an ambitious target for per capita consumption by mid-May 2019. This will be a national, non-binding target that will be used to judge the effectiveness of the Government’s actions and those of the water industry in reducing water use. The Government will also examine the wider policy options required to support the target.

The Government is also taking steps to improve water companies’ statutory planning process, to ensure that there is better collaboration between water companies and other water using sectors. This includes the Environment Agency developing a National Framework for water resources and consulting on legislative improvements.