In our latest guest blog, we meet with the Director of Water, Land and Biodiversity at the Environment Agency, David Dangerfield. David discusses the issues surrounding the current water challenges and how the EA’s National Framework for Water Resources is bringing together industry leaders to solve the crisis.
What are some of the key challenges that the water industry is facing at the moment?
There are several challenges facing the water industry, but one of the biggest is climate change. Successive years of below average rainfall and higher temperatures combined with population growth has resulted in an urgent need to adapt. If action is not taken now, in around 25 years’ time, the demand for water will exceed availability in many areas.
Connected to the climate issue is our ever-changing demand for water. For example, as working patterns have changed over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, so has the demand for water. Large urban areas with a high volume of businesses have seen a decrease in water demand as people stay at home. For some companies this has presented challenges, with new demand patterns during heatwaves.
Finally, we are also being challenged by emerging pressures such as persistent chemicals and pharmaceuticals in our water resources as well as the introduction and spread of invasive species. Many of England’s surface waters are at risk of deterioration due to non-native species as their presence prevents native wildlife from recovering.
We see that the public want greater action to be taken to protect the environment now and for future generations, but that protection requires water companies to address these challenges and take action.
What was the EA looking to achieve by creating The National Framework for Water Resources (NFWR), launched last year?
The National Framework for Water Resources was a call for change and action. The latest predictions estimate that between 2025 and 2050 we will need more than 3.4 billion additional litres of water per day to meet demand. We hope that this framework will bring together industry regulators and government officials to transform the way we use, look after and plan our water supplies in order to reduce this figure.
Within the framework, five new regional groups have been set up to address these issues - bringing together water companies, key water users and other stakeholders in each region. We advocate the development of regional groups in order to promote the joint ownership and operation of new sources of water, which in turn will benefit multiple sectors as well.
One of the criteria set out by the framework is the development of new supplies such as reservoirs, water reuse schemes and desalination plants, could you expand upon how these will make a difference?
A twin-track approach has been favoured by the EA since the water resources strategy was implemented in 2001, looking at how to use water more effectively while also developing new sources as well. Water companies have continued to abstract about the same amount of water as they did in the late 1990s despite an increase in population, illustrating the success of the strategy. However, the NFWR has shown that while we can make further savings through a reduction in leakage, water companies also need to invest in further new sources of water such as reservoirs in order to combat predicted future demand.
As a means to achieve this, Water Resources East (WRE), for example, are looking at the multiple benefits of storing water that would normally be discharged to sea. We have seen this technique used already through the Felixstowe Interreg project, which is aiming to recycle one million tonnes of water per year in Felixstowe, Suffolk, to provide water to farmers.
This approach has also been adapted as part of the proposal for the Future Fenland Project in Cambridgeshire. In this case, water usually discharged to sea will be stored in a reservoir. This work really demonstrates the benefits of a multi-sector, multi-discipline approach and will help the area grow while protecting and enhancing the environment.
The EA suggests that collaboration is key to tackling the climate crisis and water shortage, what are some of the actions that you’ve seen from different water companies in response to this?
Collaboration between water companies and others is more important than ever. On the water resources side, partnerships such as Water Resources East are making real progress in bringing together many stakeholders, including farmers, conservationists and regulators to develop a long-term joined up plan for water stewardship.
Local partnerships can be equally effective, especially when they bring together different interest groups. For example, the Wessex Water’s Hanging Langford scheme is working with the local community and the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to create a reed bed system that not only protects the village from flooding, but also treats storm water before it enters a nature reservoir, providing additional wetland habitat.
Many of VWT UK’s clients are from water intensive industries such as power generation, industries that face their own particular set of challenges in this area. What are they and how can they look to overcome them?
The power generation sector is undergoing a vast amount of change as old power stations are removed and new and more efficient ones are built. In addition, new technologies are emerging such as the use of hydrogen and carbon capture and storage. We are still assessing the water usage of these new technologies, and it is possible that some may increase the demand for water.
To overcome these challenges, water intensive industries need to do what they can now to ensure that water is available to them in the future. We are currently asking all sectors to take an active role in new regional plans, so that their water needs are identified and developed. By planning now, we can ensure both industries continue to grow in a sustainable way.
To find out more about David Dangerfield and his current work, click here.
About the Author
David Dangerfield is the Director of Water, Land and Biodiversity at the Environment Agency. He is responsible for the EA’s operational and regulatory activities across the North of England, including flood risk management, asset management, regulation of industry, the protection and creation of the natural environment and biodiversity. He has previously worked for a number of water companies including Northern Ireland Water, Thames Water and Anglian Water Services.