We can no longer take water for granted.
This month saw World Water Week. I wonder how many NCE readers were aware of the event, or regularly consider water when they discuss infrastructure investment prioritisation?
Water is a cornerstone of wellbeing and prosperity. Yet the health, economic and environmental value of water is not commonly recognised. With so much buried water infrastructure, this is in part a case of out of sight, out of mind.
People have not chosen to undervalue water, it is really that we need to be better at helping them understand its value.
Sir John Armitt’s recent examination of UK infrastructure was welcome; putting water on a par with energy, transport and communications. But this is the exception rather than the rule. Google “UK infrastructure investment” and you get a sense of how water is more commonly viewed.
Failing to recognise the value of water is something we can no longer afford. Demands upon resources are growing as never before. The 2030 Water Resources Group estimated that by 2030 global water demand will outstrip supply by 40%.
The Environment Agency estimates that by 2020, UK demand could increase by 800M extra litres of water a day. Consider this in the context of Waterwise’s assertion that south east England has less water available per person than Sudan or Syria.
Effective steps can be taken to promote water’s value.
Island nation Singapore wants to reduce water imports from mainland sources. To this end, the country has cut consumption by increasing awareness of water’s value. Initiatives included the 10 Litre Challenge for domestic users. The ABC Waters Programme transformed canals and reservoirs into recreational spaces in order to help people better value water resources.
Drought in Western Australia led to the inclusion of the value of water in Australia’s school curriculum.
As part of the 2015 price review, water regulator Ofwat requires water companies to demonstrate customer engagement. The dialogue includes long-term resource and asset planning.
Anglian Water, serving the UK’s driest region, has articulated the value of water through the integrated strategy and narrative “Love Every Drop”.
The utility has put in place what Tim Parr, of communications agency Corporate Culture describes as, “groundbreaking behaviour change programmes”.
Organisations executing water projects are well placed to engage communities - in which we are creating, upgrading or maintaining water infrastructure - about the work’s vital nature. Our presence on the ground can make us water companies’ de facto ambassadors. As such we can help reinforce the value of the resource clients provide.
These are positive steps. But if we are to keep pace with the pressures population growth, urbanisation and climate extremes are placing on water resources they need to be accelerated and amplified at an unprecedented level across the globe.
- Paul Street is Black & Veatch’s director of sustainable solutions