Plans for a tougher water abstraction regime as outlined in the government’s water White Paper could lead to a huge strain on water-intensive businesses through increased water prices, engineers this week told NCE.
Sustainable future for UK water usage
The white paper aims to ensure that future water use is sustainable and sees the limiting of abstraction from rivers as a central plank to future strategy.
Without such an approach, Britain faces a future of water shortages, and lasting environmental damage, with some rivers running dry, environment secretary Caroline Spelman cautioned.
Atkins managing director of environmental and water management Mike Woolgar told NCE that this was a huge change and the report was unclear how the plan would be implemented.
The white paper commits the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to start consultation on a new regime in early 2012. But details were limited. Woolgar also warned that any change would put pressure on businesses that need large volumes of water and could force them to move.
“It’s not going to be easy to implement this in a situation where rivers are already over-abstracted,” he said.
“Currently we enjoy clean water at the turn of a tap, and watch it drain away without a thought. But parts of England actually have less rainfall per person than many Mediterranean countries”
Environment secretary Caroline Spelman
“It will change costs for people. [Defra] is looking at volume price and pricing in relation to scarcity. This might even incentivise people to move their businesses from a high scarcity area to a low scarcity area. It’s social engineering and it’s very political.”
Woolgar admitted that changes were necessary. The white paper says the current system, set up in the 1960s, was not “originally designed to protect the environment or manage competing demands for water”.
The system currently allows water companies to extract fixed volumes of water from rivers regardless of river levels.
“Currently we enjoy clean water at the turn of a tap, and watch it drain away without a thought. But parts of England actually have less rainfall per person than many Mediterranean countries,” Spelman said.
“Making sure we’ve got enough water for everyone is going to be one of the major challenges this country will have to deal with in the years ahead. We can already see the type of problems we may face, with parts of Britain still in drought even though we’re in December.
“With water expected to be less predictable as time goes on we all have to play our part in ensuring our water supply remains secure.”