Water security in the UK

Water is a finite resource. When it is gone, it is gone. That’s difficult to imagine when 70% of the world’s surface is covered in water. But only 3% of the world’s water is drinkable and most of it is held in glaciers and ice caps. 

“water scarcity is sometimes overlooked …. but it’s going to become a bigger problem”

Patrick Watt, Chief at Christian Aid (to Sky News)

In the UK, the focus is on flooding and sea levels rising due to climate change. Not water security or scarcity. But climate change increases temperatures. That means more evaporation of water. It means plants take up more water. Animals drink more water. In hot temperatures, people use more water. It also makes our climate drier. In other words, it increases the frequency of drought. 

“Drought is on the verge of becoming the next pandemic and there is no vaccine to cure it. Most of the world will be living with water stress in the next few years. Demand will outstrip supply during certain periods.”

Mami Mizutori, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction

UK residents are greedy consumers of water. On average, a UK resident uses 140 litres of water every day. Not the highest – the average person in the U.S. uses 709 litres a day. And the average person in France uses 291 litres a day. Not the lowest – in Mali, they make do with 14 litres a day (CDC). 

4 billion people, nearly two thirds of the world’s population, live with water scarcity for at least one month of a year (UN Water). 2.3 billion people live in a country that is water stressed. Countries near the equator, the Caribbean, Middle East, Africa and Asia have the highest levels at greater than 70%. 

The water stress level in the UK is between 0-10%. That doesn’t mean we do not have water concerns as climate change takes effect.

Water security in England

“England’s water is not as secure as people believe” the Environment Agency Chair Emma Howard Boyd told those at the WWT ‘Water Security in a Changing Environment’ event in 2021. She went on to say the National Framework for Water Resources (2020), showed that if we continued to operate as usual, by 2050:

  • We would have 10-15% less water in England
  • We would have 50-80% less water in our rivers during summer periods
  • We would not have enough water for people, industry and agriculture

By 2050 we are estimated to need an additional 3,435 million litres per day if no action is taken to reduce usage.

The framework sets out a regional plan to reduce water usage to 110 litres per person a day and to halve leakage by 2050. 

Water companies will have to make changes to ensure they can cope with increased demand. They’ll also have to stop leakages. An estimated 1.06 trillion litres was lost due to leakage in 2021 (Ofwat/The Guardian).

Individuals will need to reduce their water usage. The Red Cross has some helpful tips on how to save water during a drought that would be useful at any time. 

They recommend:

  • Take short showers instead of baths
  • Repair dripping taps and any leaks
  • Turn off the tap when you brush your teeth
  • Use a basin in your sink and shower to collect water for the garden
  • Use washing machines and dishwashers only when full
  • Use a car wash which recycles water
  • Collect rainwater for your garden
  • Don’t water the lawn

For more tips on ways to save water, check out our member The Energy Saving Trust.

Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.