Climate change: taking action now to secure resilient water resources for the future

The need to take urgent action now to adapt to the impacts of climate change is highlighted in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released on 28th February 2022. In this blog, Peter May, our Head of Resilience and Water Management, reflects on key findings from the report and how the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of actions now to prepare, adapt and secure resilient and long-term sustainable water supplies.

The Working Group II report (Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) examines the impacts of climate change on nature and people around the globe. It explores future impacts at different levels of warming and the resulting risks and offers options to strengthen nature’s and society’s resilience to ongoing climate change. Our changing climate is set to not only increase the risk of flooding but also the likelihood of more frequent and severe heatwaves and droughts. The impacts of water scarcity are further compounded by our rapidly growing population. Hence the management and resilience of our water resources is fast becoming a critical issue, no more so than in south-east England, where the latest projections underline the deficit between future supplies and demand and the serious risk of water shortages.

“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our well-being and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.” Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC.

Addressing this deficit to secure both resilience across our water supplies, and a resilient water environment will be a significant challenge – acknowledging how customers expect water in their taps and may not respond quickly to calls to use less water. The increased demand from the growth in population reflects a planning guidance ambition that expects water resources should not constrain such growth – in other words, growth should not be limited by water availability.

Solution

As work continues in England to reconcile the aims and objectives of the 5 regional resource plans, it is clear the EA’s original National Framework assessment of the deficit in England of c2500Ml/d has increased substantially, to over 4,000 Ml/d by 2050. The increase reflects allowances for greater cutbacks in existing abstractions to achieve and restore more sustainable environmental improvements; the greater demand from the growing population; the impacts from climate change; and moves to achieve a higher drought resilience standard. Meanwhile, the water companies continue to tackle leakage rates, with a target of 50% reduction by 2050; and further efforts continue to reduce demand down to lower consumption levels of 110 litres per person per day. It is hoped that greater adoption of water meters will also help in this regard.

These demand management options will not provide sufficient capacity to tackle the deficit alone. They must also be accompanied by a twin-track approach of identifying and then commissioning additional new water supplies. These must include the construction of new reservoirs, both locally and linked to regional and national strategic transfer schemes to areas of greatest deficit. The country has abundant rainfall and this will be enhanced still further by the predictions of even wetter winters to come due to climate change. This provides enormous opportunities to construct far greater reservoir capacity, as part of longer-term strategic plans for more effective and efficient local and regional transfer systems, that both enhance our water environment and our resilience to drier summers and mitigate consequent water shortages in the future.

Such plans are being considered alongside other options that include desalination, artificial groundwater recharge schemes, effluent recycling and local catchment schemes. These all are part of the plans under consideration by the Water “Regulator’s Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development” – known as RAPID. Given the latest IPCC report findings, however, with the accelerating impacts and worsening predictions of climate change, there is an urgent need for such actions to also be accelerated – not least because of the long lead times for reservoir development or transfer scheme commissioning.

The uncertainties around the eventual outcomes and timing of the various demand management options being pursued now make taking such action on new water supply schemes all the more urgent.

Summary

In the future many of our existing water supplies will not provide as much as they do today, resulting in less water available to supply people, support the economy and provide healthy environments for our rivers, countryside and wildlife.

The latest IPCC report presents a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. The water sources we rely upon are not only under threat from climate change, the demand from a growing population and reductions in abstraction needed for environmental enhancement are all creating additional burdens and challenges. Securing resilient and sustainable water supplies for the future requires continued action on managing demand and reducing leakage, but alongside urgent and accelerated action now to plan and commission new strategic water supplies and transfer schemes.

Awareness of the threats from climate change are now well known and are already becoming a reality. The time has now come to respond, plan and prepare for a much drier future, to be prepared and ready to respond to and recover from the serious risks of water shortages. Taking action now to adapt to this changing climate and securing resilient water supplies for the future will be costly. However, the cost of inaction will be much higher than the cost of actions now to prepare, adapt and secure resilient and long-term sustainable water supplies.

Want to know more?

For more information about our work in Water Resource Management, click here or contact Peter.May@jbaconsulting.com.



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