UK adaptations: Water resources
The UK government is examining various possible ways of upgrading the country’s water infrastructure and cutting water waste, with the aim of reducing or avoiding future water shortages if climate change makes periods of drought in the UK more frequent and severe.
People with water meters installed in their homes use 10–15% less water than those without. The UK is unique among European countries in not having widespread water metering in homes. The government hopes that by encouraging the installation of water meters average water usage per person in the UK can be reduced from 150 to 130 litres per day by 2030.
Building more reservoirs is one way to increase water reserves against more frequent and severe periods of drought. But reservoirs can require a significant power input to pump the source water. If that energy comes from burning fossil fuels, it releases carbon dioxide, contributing further to climate change. Increased evaporation resulting from higher air temperatures is likely to mean more water is lost. So experts are looking at alternative options for harvesting more water – and currently only a few new reservoirs are being planned in England and Wales. Many cities, especially in Australia, harvest rainwater. They use this ‘grey water’ in toilets and washing machines, to help preserve fresh water for drinking.
It’s unlikely that all areas of the UK will experience water shortages at the same time. Variations in demand and the amount of rainfall mean that some areas have a surplus of water while others are lacking. These areas can often be very close to each other – sometimes even neighbouring. The Environment Agency already has the power to force different water companies to share their resources but rarely uses it. If water supplies come under increasing pressure, these powers may be used more frequently to ensure that available water resources are distributed across the UK.
Scientists are searching for new water sources, in the hope of reducing or avoiding future water shortages in the UK. One way of increasing the amount of available fresh water is to purify and desalinate the water flowing in the country’s rivers and estuaries. This process can be carried out in plants that remove the salt from seawater, making it suitable for human use. In 2010, London’s first desalination plant opened in Beckton, turning the brackish (slightly salty) waters of the River Thames into clean drinking water. The plant runs on renewable electricity and can provide over 100 million litres of fresh water each day – enough for 870,000 people.