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Don't doubt th e drought

Security of supply - Water strategy in England and Wales is under review.Bernadette Redfern asks what a new strategy should contain.

It's now five years since our last review of water policy, Directing the Flow, was published. But it is looking tired and outdated. It is time, you could say, to send it to the sewage treatment works.' These were the words of environment minister Ian Pearson, heralding the launch of the government's latest water strategy document due to be published this summer.

The new strategy is expected to be more sustainable, incorporating tougher and wider reaching efciency demands and the water quality improvements demanded by Europe's Water Framework Directive.

'Valuing water will be a central theme, ' explained Pearson. In a speech on the new framework last week he explained that a new leakage target setting system, water metering and a review of regulation will all feature in the new policy.

Ahead of the new strategy's publication, NCE asked senior water industry figures to assess the performance of England and Wales in terms of water resources. We also asked them what should be in the new policy.

Here's what they said? Baroness Barbara Young, chief executive, Environment Agency 'April has been very dry with only 2mm of rainfall in the South East, which is only 5% of the April average. The sunny spring means that agriculture is spraying early and reservoirs are declining earlier than would usually be the case. These are issues we have to address for the future as we are not just dealing with the issue of a single hot summer.

'We are still pushing for compulsory metering (in areas of water stress). The consultation on areas of water stress which closed last week is a real step forward. We hope the Minister presses ahead and makes a decision on this before the water strategy is published so that water companies can work it into their current water resource plans and into the next price review.

'It is still up in the air as to the best way to set efciency targets and it's not just about leakage, there is a whole lot of other stuff. We would like the public to continue voluntary usage reductions and we want to see water companies active in efciency programmes and not just focusing on new capital schemes. Where we need new resources we need to get on with it as these things take a long time to develop.

'Personally I would like to see the new strategy tackle the big regulatory issues as well as the environmental and social ones.

I would like it to consider the climate change impact of water and sewage management and look at low carbon solutions and long term planning for sewerage and drainage and how we fund this.' Mark Fletcher, water business leader - Europe, Arup and Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor in Engineering Design for Sustainable Development at Bradford University 'Our climate is changing and this impacts on how we manage water for the future.

Clear strategies are urgently required to address the threat of water resources reaching the sustainable limit.

'The obvious starting point is to manage our existing assets more effectively to achieve the maximum possible benet from the water we are already taking out of the environment. Reducing leakage is essential and water resources must be well managed based on sound science and pragmatism.

'Where absolutely necessary, major regional resources are being developed to address the supply-demand gap, particularly in critical periods.

'Changes are necessary to bring about required change from water companies and their consumers. Government has an important role to play here as positive changes to legislation would help to close the gap between knowledge and actions required to effect change, for example demand management.

Some utilities are taking the initiative and increasing their level of metering to help manage demand better.

'Headway is being made with new, more efcient technologies and improvements to previously inefcient or expensive processes. These include improvements in reverse osmosis technology which mean a reduction in energy costs of desalination, and smart meters with enhanced functionality.

'It is essential that we can manage pressures that may arise from climate change scenarios. Future-proofing should be considered in water resource management strategies that may trigger more serious consideration of national rather than just regional solutions.

'Positive action is required now. Globally, pressure on water resources is evident with current and recent droughts in Australia, the UK and Africa.

'There is no silver bullet - more pragmatic, sustainable and integrated management of the catchment is required to accommodate the uncertainty of a changing climate.

Barrie Clarke, director of communication, water industry association Water UK 'After a wet winter, nothing has changed and everything has changed. Companies, regulators and government need to reassure people. The industry is keen to work with stakeholders and customers for a sustainable public supply.

'In the year ahead, there are several opportunities to restore confidence: a new government vision for water; long-term direction statements from water companies; and a refreshed water resources strategy for England and Wales from the Environment Agency.

'The two national statements will be very influential. The industry looks forward to the consultations but isn't shy of making its hopes known in advance.

'Most important is that ministers and officials find ways of emphasising the value of water. It is natural for a society like ours to take water for granted.

'But taking care of public supply and the environment in a rich and crowded country is harder if people are oblivious to the consequences of unrestrained demand.

'The industry wants policy to confirm the 'twin track' approach (managing demand and developing new resource) in a sustainable development framework. A lively debate on the relative contributions of reducing consumption and increasing resource must not end with either track hitting the buffers.

'The strategy must link obviously with river basin management plans and the Water Framework Directive, or confusion is certain. Both plans and strategy must allow for the 2009 (and subsequent) Ofwat price reviews - and vice versa.

'Some hard questions must be addressed. How will the strategy reconcile solving environmental stress with meeting customers' needs and wishes?

'Can it build on the excellent collaborative work of the government-led Water Saving Group in measuring water stress and smoothing the path to effective metering?

'And will it recognise that getting people to change ingrained habits and become water-wise is not the sort of thing you can do by setting targets for water suppliers and letting everyone else off the hook?'

Chris Binnie, ICE water board member and independent consultant 'It is a number of years since there was a National Strategy for water. Since then policy requirements have changed appreciably. Therefore, ICE welcomes the proposal to issue a new water strategy.

Demand for water has risen.

Population and housing projections would indicate it could increase further. Therefore, the need to reduce energy use is now important.

'The water companies themselves are major users of energy, pumping water round their systems. Further reductions in leakage would be beneficial.

The effect of climate change is likely to be an appreciable reduction in summer river flows.

This would be expected to reduce source yields.

'A source generally available close to the demand is the sewage treatment works. This also has the advantage that it is climate change proof, the works operating at similar flows irrespective of climate.

'The Langford reuse scheme of Essex & Suffolk Water Company already provides up to 40Ml/d. We hope the Defra strategy encourages consideration of similar schemes.

'At present there are very few proposals for new intercompany transfers of water, each company preferring to have its own water sources.

'We would expect Defra to encourage greater sharing of water resources between companies. A number of water companies are proposing the construction of new reservoirs.

These require appreciable energy to build and pump the water to the demand centres. We hope that Defra requires energy use to be a substantial factor in future analysis of options.

'Some of the largest water reductions could be made by non-household demand and we would expect Defra to set challenging targets for the reduction of such non-household demand.

'As the water companies have to look forward 25 years in their water resources plan, then the Defra strategy should have a similar timescale.'

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