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England could run short of water within 25 years
England is set to run short of water within 25 years, the chief executive of the Environment Agency has warned.
The country is facing the “jaws of death”, Sir James Bevan said, at the point where water demand from the country’s rising population surpasses the falling supply resulting from climate change. However, this could be avoided with ambitious action to cut people’s water use by a third and leakage from water company pipes by 50%, he says, along with big new reservoirs, more desalination plants and transfers of water across the country. “Around 25 years from now, where those (demand and supply] lines cross is known by some as the ‘jaws of death’ – the point at which we will not have enough water to supply our needs, unless we take action to change things,” Bevan told the Guardian, before a speech on Tuesday at the Waterwise conference in London. “We need water wastage to be as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby or throwing your plastic bags into the sea,” he said. In the speech, Bevan says: “Water companies all identify the same thing as their biggest operating risk: climate change.” By 2040, more than half of our summers are expected to be hotter than the 2003 heatwave, he says, leading to more water shortages and potentially 50-80% less water in some rivers in the summer.
The population of the UK is expected to rise from 67 million to 75 million in 2050, increasing the demand for water. But Bevan says the average person’s daily water use of 140 litres could be cut to 100 litres in 20 years by more efficient use in homes and gardens. Currently, about a third of water is lost to leaks or wastage. The most controversial change needed to increase supply is building new mega reservoirs, such as that proposed near Abingdon in Oxfordshire. “We have not built a new reservoir in the UK for decades, largely because clearing all the planning and legal hurdles necessary is so difficult and local opposition so fierce,” Bevan says. The government plans to streamline the planning process. “That will be controversial, but it’s the right thing to do,” says Bevan.
More water will also need to be transferred across the country to water-stressed areas, such as the south-east, Bevan says, via pipelines or canals. Just 4% of current supplies are transferred between individual water companies, but there are plans for 20 new transfer projects. More desalination plants, such as Thames Water’s Beckton plant, will also be needed to turn seawater into drinking water, he says. “While there will be political challenges, there should be less difficulty over the economics,” Bevan says. “That’s because the investment needed to increase our resilience is modest compared with the cost of not doing it. While a severe drought would cost each household more than £100, the cost per household of the investment that would greatly reduce the risk is only £4 a year.” Water companies are required by the regulator Ofwat to cut leakage by 15% by 2020, although some have incurred huge fines in the past for failing to meet targets.
Michael Roberts, the chief executive of Water UK, which represents the water companies, said: “As well as planning increasing investment, water companies have publicly committed to cut leakage by 50% by 2050.” “We’re also working with government and regulators to find ways to make it easier for people to reduce their daily water use, and if we all work together on this we can make sure the country continues to get the water it needs,” said Roberts. “A twin-track approach is the right way to go, reducing demand for water at the same time as increasing supply.”
It is also vital that wildlife and natural habitats are protected from excessive water abstraction, said Tom Lancaster, at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which is part of the Blueprint for Water coalition of 18 NGOs. “Government proposals to reform water abstraction and improve water management are necessary if we are to balance the needs of people and the natural environment,” he said. “This should start with government placing a duty on water companies to restore and enhance nature.”
Damian Carrington, Environment editor, Mon 18 Mar 2019
Between 2017 and 2018, the city of Cape Town in South Africa suffered from a severe water crisis which brought the fear of a “day zero”, a day when the residents would have to queue for their daily ration of water, making Cape Town the first major city in the world to run out of water. This example sheds a thought provoking light on the issue of water management in the process of climate change and this is precisely what is at stake in this article.
2. Summary highlights: This article revolves around three key ideas
- Fact: Within 25 years, England could lack water, a tremendous threat to the basic needs of people and the natural environment.
- Cause: There are multiple causes which explain this threat. The most serious risk obviously comes from climate change which temperature increase disturbs the traditional consumption and supply of water. Then, there are more “human causes”, in other words people’s water use is excessive and the demand for water will increase with the population growth. Finally, there is a technical cause, the lack of infrastructures for adequate water management due to an insufficient commitment of the British government and the water companies.
- Solutions: A combined solution is compulsory. On the one hand, it is necessary to eradicate daily water wastage, so to reduce the individual demand for water. On the other hand, numerous solutions are conceivable to increase water supply: governmental pressure on water companies to cut pipes leakage and the building of new infrastructures like big reservoirs, desalination plants and pipelines or canals for a homogeneous transfer of water on the territory. Additionally, an environmental commitment of water companies could enable to compensate for the aftermath of “water abstraction”.
3. Transition and question
Throughout the analysis of this article, it appears that climate change increasingly jeopardizes water management. Therefore, water reflects the excesses of water management, as it is becoming a very coveted resource in the modern era and its lack or pollution a considerable threat to mankind.
So, this begs the following question: How far is water a major threat to humanity in the process of climate change and are there solutions? Is it a tell-tale sign of wider climate threats to come?
4. Commentary outline
A. Water reflects the excesses of climate change becoming a looming danger for humanity in the short term
- Multiplication of water shortages: “day zero” in Cape Town (South Africa) and in La Paz (Bolivia).
- The shortage of water leads to the multiplication of water conflicts between countries, populations…: battle for water in India between Coca Cola and farmers: In the Indian state of Rajasthsan, farmers have accused Coca Cola factories of drawing too heavily on the area’s water supplies and contributing to pollution.
- The increasing pollution of waters is accountable for serious environmental and health problems: according to the UN, 4000 children die each day of diseases caused by contaminated waters : One out of every four deaths among young children is linked to cnvironmental hazards, report finds.
- Sea level rise threatens the coastlines: Venice: St Mark’s Square now floods more than 60 times a vcar, up from four times a year in 1900. Recent storms reportedly helped cover over 70% of the city in water, which rose by up to 156cm above its normal level.
B. The necessity to put a check on the drift concerning current water management
- Coastlines have to develop protections against the sea rise level: “Big U” project in New York to create a green barrier around Manhattan Island: Called the BIG UV and designed by Bjarke Ingels Group BIG), the ambitious project calls for a series of levees, a floodwall, and a park that would help protect the island from inundation.
- The necessity to find alternatives to the exploitation of natural sources which are dwindling: 70% of drinking water in Saudi Arabia comes from scawater thanks to the desalination process. One of the planet’s greatest and oldest freshwater resources, in one of its hottest and most parched places, has been all but emptied in little more than a generatio.
- The necessity to clamp down on the consumption of contaminated waters, particularly in emerging countries: creation in 2017 by the French engineer Alain Gachet of a technology to detect drinkable waters at a depth of 100 metors. A recent World Bank at World Water Weck titled Reducing Inequalities in Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals suggests that a drastic change is required in the way countries manage resources and provide key services.
C. The pressing need to preserve humanity from the escalating danger of climate change
- Multiplication of climate disruption and extreme weather events: wildfires in California in 2018 which where the most destructive of its history, winter freeze in 2019 in the US Midwest (Chicago).Extreme heatwave in Australia in January 2019 with temperaturcs reaching above 40°C for days in a row.
- Transfer of the weather conditions of 6km per year from the Equator to the North which deeply disturbs wildlife, brings tropical diseases,…: fives cases of Malaria reported in Italy in 2017.
- Distressing degradation of air quality due to the fine particles: building of numerous coal fired power stations in China in 2018 in opposition to Paris Agreement.
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