The UK could see water shortages by 2050 if action is not taken to conserve supplies, the chair of the Environment Agency has told Sky News.
Water management is being overhauled in response to climate change, but Emma Howard Boyd warned: “If we don’t all work together on the issue of water resources, by 2050 we could find parts of this country living under severe water stress.
“We will always work to make sure the general public have access to water but that could be through forms of water supply other than being able to turn on your tap – such as bottled water potentially and communal taps as well.”
The Environment Agency is urging consumers to be more water aware and use water wisely. It said water leakage needs to be dramatically reduced and it isn’t ruling out the possibility that water bills could rise.
Ms Howard Boyd said: “It’s very clear that the country as a whole needs to pay for the environment that we want and we may all have to step up, including customers, for clean and plentiful water.
“The whole chain of those involved with water needs to work out the best ways of storing water during periods of plentiful water so it’s available at different times when there are water shortages.
“With the right planning, preparation, and foresight we can find ourselves in a much better place than some of the projections take us for 2050.”
Climate change means more extremes of weather but the Environment Agency said we don’t have enough infrastructure in place to store water from heavier wetter winters for the drier summers we are now experiencing.
Chew Valley Lake is one of the UK’s largest reservoirs supplying water to nearly a million people in Bristol and Somerset. But in a drought scenario and without action, Bristol Water said there could be shortages in its region within 15 years.
Liz Cornwell, water resource manager for Bristol Water, said: “Climate change has a significant effect on our water supply, and it’s the uncertainty that’s a problem.
“Trying to manage around that uncertainty and not knowing what’s going to actually happen in the future is very challenging for the water industry as a whole.”
A spokesperson for the Water Services Regulation Authority, Ofwat, said: ‘Water companies have access to over £450m to help narrow the gap between the supply and demand for water – looking at practical solutions such as building reservoirs, and transferring water from the wetter north west to the drier south east of England.
“We are also pushing companies to make better use of existing water supplies wasting less water through leaks and helping people to use less water at home.
“We all have a part to play to protect this most precious resource and we are committed to working with the water sector to ensure companies to deliver more for people today, invest for future generations and at the same time operate more efficiently and reduce bills”.
Sky News is set to launch the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.
First airing on Wednesday 7 April, the show will also highlight solutions to the crisis and show how small changes can make a big difference.