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Engineers in call to reform water industry regulation

Government and sector professionals agree to better dialogue.

Water industry regulation must be reformed so that infrastructure can be adapted to cope with climate and demographic change, leading scientists and engineers said last week.

They reached this conclusion at last week’s Engineering, Infrastructure & Climate Change Adaptation Strategy Group water sector workshop of representatives from the government and the engineering community.

The meeting is part of a project involving the government and the engineering profession led by Brian Collins, chief scientific advisor to the Department for Transport & Department for Business & Skills.

Climate change will alter precipitation patterns and sea and groundwater levels and result in more extreme weather events which will put pressure on water infrastructure.

Water companies must also change to deal demographic changes, especially population growth which is set to grow by 11% by the 2020s and by 28% by the 2050s. Other constraints on the industry will include additional environmental quality regulations.

ICE water panel chair David Nickols, who chaired last week’s workshop said it was imperative the UK started to make changes to protect its water systems so they were capable of meeting tomorrow’s sustainability needs.

Need for change

“Our existing water infrastructure was largely designed and built in a different era, without consideration of the expected impacts of climate change, and for a vastly different population,” he said. “It, and the way we use it, must be adapted to avoid major service failures in the future.

“We will need to develop additional water resources, and at the same time reduce demand and re-use more of our limited water supplies, to cope with the impacts of climate change and population growth. We will need to increase resilience against floods and droughts. To achieve these long-term changes, we will need to modify the regulatory framework to encourage and facilitate long-term planning and change within industry.”

The workshop, hosted at ICE headquarters in Westminster, was part of a wider government/engineering profession project Infrastructure, Engineering & Climate Change Adaptation led by Collins.

Global opportunity

It seeks to identify opportunities for the country’s engineering sector to take a global lead in designing and engineering climate resilient infrastructure. It also seeks to identify barriers that are preventing action and further skills development. A core aim is to establish a more structured process of engagement between government and the engineering profession on these issues.

Nickols said the project would establish a vital dialogue between industry and Westminster, giving the engineering community a valuable opportunity to shape future policy.

“Sustainable infrastructure is crucial to the shift to a low carbon economy and to the UK’s economic progress, and this project is a great example of government and industry communicating and working together effectively to eliminate some of the barriers that have traditionally existed and are delaying progress.”

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