ICE’s State of the Nation: Water report has called for decisive and prompt action to tackle the UK’s water security, which they warn will continue to worsen if not addressed urgently.
The report, launched by President Richard Coakley, says the recent droughts have been a ‘wake up call’ for the UK but the urgency and severity of the UK’s water issues is still not properly understood. It rates our current water security as level 4 on a 1-10 scale.
To tackle the crisis ICE has called for the creation of a ‘UK Water Security Taskforce’ to deliver an integrated roadmap to water security by spring 2014, based on strategic plans from all Governments. If the roadmap includes time-bound steps the UK could be out of danger – at water security level 8 or 9 – by 2025.
To achieve this, the report makes several recommendations for change including the development of new water storage facilities across the country, the removal of regulatory barriers that discourage water sharing between neighbouring companies and collaborative investment in new infrastructure, and the phased introduction of universal metering, with social tariffs to protect the poorest in society.
Chair of the ICE Water Panel Michael Norton said there is no silver bullet solution. “We are a populous nation facing a growing gap between what we can supply and what our water users need. Sadly it’s only when hose-pipe bans are inflicted on us that the public has any glimpse of this reality. We have a valuable opportunity while water is in the forefront of the nation’s minds to impress on the public the real value of this resource and we mustn’t squander it.
“The changes ICE is recommending will require some upheaval to current regulations as well as firm decisions on how to forecast future demand, but once done we would see the effect relatively quickly.”
The report says changing pricing structures to reflect the true value of water and building smaller but more evenly distributed water storage facilities across the UK will be crucial.
Currently most households pay only a £1 per day for unlimited water, which requires a costly treatment process to make it potable. ICE says in the long-term using expensive, potable water for everything including outside activities like watering the garden is unsustainable. It calls for a 30% reduction of per capita consumption in homes (currently 150 litres per day) and discretionary tariffs that reward low usage with prices rising as usage increases.
Michael said: “Commonly thought of ‘rainy’ areas won’t be like that in the future – rainfall will be more varied, both in terms of time and location – so relying on very large reservoirs in only one or two places will no longer be effective.
”However the single biggest problem is the low value we place on water. It’s currently much undervalued and provided to most of us without limit. The UN has rightly stated that water for health and hygiene is a human right and should be affordable to the whole of society, but it makes up only a small proportion of our direct water use (less than 15%). Everything else is discretionary and should be charged as such.”
This would also encourage a public shift in attitude towards solutions that can significantly reduce domestic water such as recycling household water for non-drinking uses and rainwater harvesting for outside uses such as watering the garden. Currently potable water is so affordable to most of us that there is little public appetite for recycling water in the home, however using this ‘grey water’ to flush the toilet alone could reduce domestic water usage by a third.
Whilst the Government has made some positive steps in the Water White Paper and the announcement of a draft Water Bill, the report urges it to deliver on these intentions without delay and within the context of a UK-wide vision. Download a copy of the report at www.ice.org.uk/sonwater2012