Water efficiency crucial to UK's future

8th December 2011

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Water ,
  • Business & Industry ,
  • Natural resources ,
  • Management



Organisations must cut the amount of water they use if the UK economy is to cope with greater pressure on its supplies in future, warns Defra.

In its long-awaited white paper, Water for Life, the government confirms that ecosystems in England and Wales are already being harmed by unsustainable levels of water use and, with greater pressure on supplies anticipated due to an increasing population and the impacts of climate change, it is vital that water is used more efficiently in homes and businesses.

“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,” said environment secretary Caroline Spelman in launching the paper. “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.”

The paper outlines the government’s proposed approach to protecting the natural environment, while ensuring sustainable and affordable water supplies. It places particular emphasis on the local “catchment” area approach to tackling pollution and argues in favour of incentivising water efficiency for businesses and homeowners.

Key proposals include providing access to finance through the Green Deal for the upgrade to more efficient heated water systems, for example, and the introduction of variable tariffs, which should encourage a reduction in demand at peak times.

The paper also proposes reforming the water sector to allow business customers in England and Wales to choose their water supplier, following similar changes introduced in Scotland in 2008. According to the government increased competition will provide an incentive for water companies to work with customers to help reduce water consumption and cut wastage.

Defra’s proposals were welcomed by Mark Powles, chief executive of Scottish water supplier Business Stream, who said his firm had helped customers cut their bills by £20 million by reducing water use.

“That would not have happened without competition, and certainly not within a few years,” he said. “This is a good time for businesses as the white paper puts customers at the heart of the water sector, giving them more power to influence the price they pay and to control the type of service they need for their business.”

Following on from the natural environment white paper published in June, the new paper confirms the government’s continued support into investigating water footprinting techniques, and also discusses the important potential role of clearer labelling to help consumers buy the most water-efficient products.

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) described the document as broadly positive, but criticised the government for not being more explicit in its support for a wider roll out of water meters.

“To value water properly … we need to measure water use accurately and then use tariffs that discourage profligacy. This white paper does too little to encourage wider metering which is a crucial part of this balance,” said Nick Reeves, CIWEM executive director.

Rose Timlett, freshwater policy officer at WWF-UK, agreed: “It's great to see that the government is taking a fresh and innovative approach to protecting our rivers and wildlife, [but] one key area that still needs to be addressed is how to support the comprehensive roll-out of water meters. Combined with social tariffs and water efficiency measures this is the cheapest and fairest way for people to reduce their water usage.”

Meanwhile, Carrie Hume, head of conservation policy at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, argued that the paper did not go far enough in its plans to protect wetlands.

“Wetlands drainage systems soak up floodwater in towns and cities are easy to create, often inexpensive and highly effective. But standards for their installation have still not been published while the concept of retrofitting around existing urban areas is all but ignored,” she said.

“Unless we harness the power of nature to help prevent flooding we are in for a seriously tough time with major flooding events like those of 2007 in Gloucestershire, which cost £3.4 billion, readily happening again.”

Alongside the white paper the Environment Agency published two support papers outlining its research into water availability in the UK and the case for reforming the sourcing of water in England.

A draft Water Bill, following the proposals in the white paper, will be published early next year.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

Swing voters show strong support for renewables

There is strong support for renewable energy as a source of economic growth among UK voters, particularly among those intending to switch their support for a political party.

16th May 2024

Read more

A project promoter’s perspective on the environmental challenges facing new subsea power cables

3rd April 2024

Read more

The UK’s major cities lag well behind their European counterparts in terms of public transport use. Linking development to transport routes might be the answer, argues Huw Morris

3rd April 2024

Read more

Tom Harris examines the supply chain constraints facing the growing number of interconnector projects

2nd April 2024

Read more

The UK government’s carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) strategy is based on optimistic techno-economic assumptions that are now outdated, Carbon Tracker has warned.

13th March 2024

Read more

The UK government’s latest Public Attitudes Tracker has found broad support for efforts to tackle climate change, although there are significant concerns that bills will rise.

13th March 2024

Read more

A consortium including IEMA and the Good Homes Alliance have drafted a letter to UK government ministers expressing disappointment with the proposed Future Homes Standard.

26th February 2024

Read more

Global corporations such as Amazon and Google purchased a record 46 gigawatts (GW) of solar and wind energy last year, according to BloombergNEF (BNEF).

13th February 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close