sustained heat and dry weather highlight the need to prepare for water shortages
Europe is experiencing its hottest heatwave on record, with sustained above-average temperatures being felt in some northern
–most parts and a UK high temperature record of 40.3°C in Lincolnshire.
This weather trend is becoming increasingly familiar and is likely to continue – and even accelerate – with climate change. High temperatures and a lack of rain have a direct impact on our water and how much of it is available to sustain natural ecosystems and meet the increase in demand from all sectors, leading to a supply/demand deficit that will be felt by every one of us.
What does this mean for water?
On the surface, low flows in rivers have serious consequences for the environment. They can lead to deterioration in water quality, reduce a waterway’s ability to dilute pollutants and increase the risk of low oxygen levels. This causes a real and immediate threat to the health of freshwater ecosystems (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/extreme-heat-environment-agency-calls-on-public-to-help-protect-fish).
Underground, the high temperatures and low water flows overground impact the groundwater levels in our aquifers. The French Geological Survey (Brgm) monitor groundwater levels across the country, and their latest risk forecast shows that most of France’s aquifers are at very high risk of drought with many already below normal levels. This includes areas in the north and western France where water levels have not been a concern historically.
What does this mean for us?
This week the Environment Agency announced that restrictions would likely be put in place on abstraction licences in some of the areas experiencing prolonged dry weather.
These restrictions will impact the many businesses and industries that rely on this water, especially sectors like food, petro-chemicals, construction, and energy which are highly dependent on the resource. As the demand for water grows in regions where it is already scarce, businesses which rely on a regular supply of water need to start identifying and implementing measures to adapt to a future with less.
Climate change and a growing population mean we are all facing future water shortages. If we do nothing, we could see a growing shortfall across water dependent businesses and water suppliers. A similar picture is unfolding across the rest of Europe, and while we are not yet suffering from the sweltering heat and droughts experienced by countries further south, we too have reason to be concerned.
Severe drought in Northern Italy led to localised bans on the irrigation of fruit trees and calls for the public to limit the quantity of water they use daily. An estimated 9 billion euros are lost every year to drought in the EU and the United Kingdom.
As temperatures rose to 40 degrees this week, and forecasts for parts of the East of England are for little rain in the weeks to come, the need to rethink how we use water is becoming more urgent. Improving water efficiency, reducing waste and leakage, and finding new alternative sources of water and smarter ways of managing it will be critical over the coming years and decades.
What can we do about it?
Individual demand: in reality, we use on average 142L of water per day in the UK, but a recent survey showed that 46% of people thought they used under 20L. We need to become more aware and careful with our water, and save it wherever we can. There are lots of resources to help you save water like these tips from #waterworthsaving.
Business & industry: get involved in conversations around water. Water is a shared resource, and a collective approach to understanding the needs across a catchment will help to identify the best solutions to manage it more sustainably.
- Get involved in your local catchment partnership : catchmentbasedapproach.org
- Work with your regional water resources group (see appendix 2 Regional Planning) publishing.service.gov.uk
- Water companies: water companies have a big part to play in increasing the amount of available water by fixing leakages – an estimated 3 billion litres of water are lost to leakages every year in England and Wales. The sector has pledged to cut leakage by 16% by 2025 but more still needs to be done to tackle water security issues.
- Water for Tomorrow is attempting to build a more complete picture of water resource needs across the sectors so that we can find the best solutions for sectors to adapt to water shortages.