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Viewpoint: Water policy is growing in importance

Michael Norton

The central issue

After a fascinating three year stint, my term as chair of ICE’s expert panel on water has come to an end - and what a three years it has been.

Early in 2011 the ICE, together with the Chartered Institution of Water & Environmental Management and Royal Academy of Engineering, published Global Water Security, a white paper which gave a UK perspective on the worldwide challenge of water security.

At around the same time, the 2030 Water Resources Group published Charting our Water Future, providing a first truly global look at the looming imbalance of water resource availability and demand from households, industry and agriculture.

These and other important publications marked the start of a change in attitudes towards “water” among water management professionals.

It was becoming clear that this precious resource, the lifeblood of the biosphere and economic growth, was coming under increasing stress.

Such was the need to bring the matter to the centre of public debate that the ICE’s 2012 State of the Nation (SoN) report explored the pressures put on the UK’s water resources by climate change and a rising population, while outlining policy recommendations that would provide water security in the long term.

The report also pointed to the UK’s dependence on scarce water in other nations.

Three years on, we are still without a national over-arching strategy for water security that considers all available supply and demand side measures and the interdependencies between water, energy, food and the environment.

That is not to say that the subject of water security hasn’t moved up the political agenda.

Legislative changes in the Water Act could encourage greater competition among domestic water providers, and could incentivise the trade of water supplies for all uses between areas of abundance and scarcity.

The creation of the National Water Resources Group, of which the ICE is a member, is also welcome and will be a forum for the development of informed and integrated policy on water resource management.

My worthy successor Phil Mills and the ICE water panel continue to disseminate the SoN’s central messages of the need for a national water security road map, better understanding of the role and value of water, and innovative measures to store and use more of the water we currently leave to run off to the sea.

For my part, and through my professional and academic activities, I will continue to champion the vital role of water in society and the health of the biosphere; while at the same time being a driver of economic growth.

I will continue to point to the dependence of the UK on other nations’ scarce water and our need to take that into account when we assess our nation’s ecological footprint.

Most of all, I will continue to urge all water professionals to look afresh at “water” and strive to make a difference to the way in which we manage this most precious of all our natural resources.

  • Michael Norton is chair of the ICE expert water panel

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