The UK’s Environment Agency says England will face water shortages by 2050 without measures to conserve, according to BBC News. The study represents the first major investigation into England’s water supplies, and found that each day, enough water to supply 20 million people is lost to leakage. Population growth and climate change were also forecasted to bring additional pressure on the water supply.
In 2016, a total of 9,500 billion liters were pumped from sources such as rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Three billion of those liters were lost to leakage. But even more concerning, water was being extracted at unsustainable levels from 28 percent of groundwater sources and 18 percent of surface waters.
Up to 15 percent of rivers, and the majority of chalk streams, failed to meet standards for “a good ecological status or potential,” often as a result of unsustainable extraction.
Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd, noted, “We need to change our attitudes to water use. It is the most fundamental thing needed to ensure a healthy environment, but we are taking too much of it and have to work together to manage this precious resource.”
England’s daily water use averages about 140 liters daily. In 2016, 55 percent of the water supply was used by public water companies, and 27 percent was used by the electricity supply industry.
The agency says it will collaborate with government and industry to determine an appropriate target for personal consumption, and effective ways to meet that target. The government’s 25-year plan, published earlier this year, has already recommended reductions in individual water consumption.
According to England’s water industry, 75 percent of water used in the home is used for washing, laundry, and toilets. This usage could be reduced with a campaign for increased awareness of the issue.
Nicci Russell, from the water efficiency campaign group Waterwise, told BBC News “We’d like to see it at 100 or less, we think that’s perfectly do-able over the next 20-25 years.”
Environment Minister George Eustice, however, explained to BBC Radio that the guidelines are not a cap:
“It’s more a target really to encourage individual households to think about their water, to encourage the use of, for instance, flushing systems on toilets that are more economical in the way they use water, and basically get the types of innovation that we need within households over a period of time, so that we are using water more carefully.”
In addition to wasteful water practices, climate change threatens to interfere with England’s water supply with shifts in the amount and timing of rainfall that replenishes sources. And England’s population is expected to grow to 58.5 million by 2026, with much of that growth expected in areas with already strained water supplies.