Water & Wastewater Treatment

WWT August 2019

Water & Wastewater Treatment Magazine

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In Focus www.wwtonline.co.uk | WWT | AUGUST 2019 | 9 Abstract concept Despite concerns over supplies, water companies face pressure to reduce abstraction. As part of our Utility of the Future campaign, we explore the true scale of the problem and the potential routes forward By Robin Hackett T he looming threat of water shortages in England has been well publi- cised, and the problem cannot be solved simply by taking more from rivers, lakes, estuaries and groundwater sources. The Environment Agency (EA) has already warned that many catchments have no further water to spare due to a need to protect the environment and, with concerns over the sustainability of current abstraction levels, some water companies have already taken steps to reduce the amount they take. Work is now taking place in several • elds to explore solutions that could en- able the water company of the future to ensure reliable supplies while helping to keep the environment in balance. State of play According to EA • gures, nearly 9,500 billion litres of freshwater were abstracted in 2016, with 55 per cent of that taken for public water supply. There are various reasons for the sector to try to bring about reductions. If water companies can better preserve their resources – through cutting leakage and consumption levels, for example – it increases security of supply and reduces the cost and carbon footprint associated with taking water from the environment, bringing it to potable standards and delivering it. There are also concerns over the impact on the water sources, and the EA warned last year that even current levels of abstraction are unsustainable in more than a quarter of groundwater bodies and up to one-• … h of surface waters, with wa- ter levels reducing and damaging wildlife. UKWIR is creating a route map for how the industry can halve freshwater abstrac- tions in a sustainable way by 2050 as part of its 12 Big Questions campaign (see page 14), and chief executive Steve Kaye points out that – among the various reasons to take less water out of the environment – there is a reputational aspect. "Water companies are taking more of a 'social contract' approach to running their businesses," Kaye, a member of the Utility of the Future board, says. "The Public Interest Commitment that Water UK are leading with the CEOs is all about demonstrating how utilities are not just about paying shareholders but protecting the environment and improv- ing society, so it falls in line with that approach." Water companies have already worked alongside Ofwat and the EA to create the abstraction incentive mechanism (AIM), which is designed to shi… abstraction to the least damaging sources. However, circumstances can limit what can be achieved and, having experienced three consecutive dry winters in addition to last summer's heatwave, the National Drought Group said recently that "one or two" companies may require permits to take more water than usual from rivers or boreholes later this year. "When you have three dry winters in a row, you've got a problem," Kaye says. Scale of the issue In June, 12 wildlife, conservation and an- gling groups wrote to EA chief executive Sir James Bevan urging him to demand that companies implement temporary use bans, saying: "Rivers and chalk streams in the south east are fast approaching a crisis point as a result of the impend- ing drought caused by the last three dry winters." Martin Salter of the Angling Trust added: "Without urgent action now to reduce water use, many of our streams will dry up and die." While water companies have already handed back substantial licence volume, and considerable improvements have WATER RESOURCES

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