Will England run out of water?

Environment Agency warns overuse and leaking pipes putting increasing pressure on overstretched supplies

(Image credit: Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images)

England will face water supply shortages by 2050 unless rapid action is taken to curb excessive useage and wastage, the Environment Agency (EA) has warned.

A new report by the agency says that almost 9,500 billion litres of freshwater were abstracted in 2016 - enough to cover the whole of Greater London in almost six metres of water.

Around 55% of the water taken from freshwater sources was abstracted by public water companies, while 36% was used by electricity supply and other industries, the report says.

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Many sources of water supplies are already at overcapacity, and “with climate change and a growing population, much of England could see significant supply shortages by the 2050s, particularly in the Southeast”, says The Guardian.

Three billion litres a day are lost through leaks from pipes - “equivalent to the amount of water used by more than 20 million people in an average day”, adds the newspaper.

With calls growing for action to tackle the problem, a spokesperson for Water UK told the BBC: “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 a third since the 1990s, but we know there’s a lot more to do, which is why it’s one of our top priorities.”

Taking too much water out of the environment “can harm wildlife such as fish, birds and aquatic plants, and damage wetlands which are important habitats for a host of animals and plants”, reports ITV News.

As the effects of climate change are felt, “river flows are predicted to increase in the winter and decrease in the summer, which along with drier conditions because of warmer temperatures could have a greater effect on wildlife”, the broadcaster adds.

The other big potential problem is population growth, according to the EA.

If no action is taken to reduce demand and increase water supplies, most areas of the country will not be able to meet demand, the report warns.

Even with low population growth and less severe changes to the climate, there will be significant water supply deficits within the next 30 years, particularly in London and the Southeast.

The Government has already advised that individual water use should be reduced, in its 25-year environment plan, published earlier this year.

EA chair Emma Howard Boyd said: “We need to change our attitudes to water use. 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.

“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.

“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.”

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