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Pressures on water resources

Since the development of urbanised society, certain trends have combined to reduce supply.

Pollution from agriculture and industry has degraded water sources; wetland drainage, carried out to create growing space, has eroded the environment’s natural storage of water; and in recent decades planning policy has allowed more concrete to be poured, leading to faster run-off of rainwater, increased flood risk and a reduction in the recharge of groundwater that is available for abstraction. Extreme weather events and misuse of the sewerage network have added to these pressures.

Catchment management

Farming and environmental policy developments to protect natural resources will help address some of the industry’s concerns and relieve some of the pressure on supplies. CAP reform, especially the move from production subsidy to environmental stewardship, should reduce diffuse pollution; and the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires a comprehensive approach to improving all water bodies, including protection of abstraction points for public supply.

Water companies are already working at catchment level with farmers throughout the UK on new approaches to land management to address the degradation and pollution of the water environment and protect resources.

Floods and drought

As we have seen in recent years, extreme weather events increase incidences of drought and flooding. This affects overall volumes of available water as well as reducing the quality of surface water for summer abstraction.

New measures, to increase resilience against such pressures, are being developed and implemented. ‘TUBs’ restrictions enable water companies to act swiftly to prevent non-essential use of water in times of drought, and the building of sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDs)helps to reduce the problem of surface flooding by ‘holding’ water at times of extreme rainfall and releasing it more slowly into the wastewater network before it is returned to the environment.

Water UK is working closely with Defra as the government seeks to implement the necessary SUDs infrastructure for new building developments. Protection of the wastewater infrastructure is also being tackled by the water companies through public awareness campaigns to prevent sewer misuse and plumbing misconnections that contribute to flooding and pollution of water courses.