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With droughts becoming more likely in the U.K., officials are predicting a water crisis within 25 years if measures aren’t put into action.

Individual conservation and reducing water lost to leaks are first lines of defense

Climate change plus growth equals an existential threat,” and the United Kingdom will be in “the jaws of death” within 25 years. These aren’t the words of a street-corner prophet of doom, they’re the widely noted remarks of the Sir James Bevan, chief of the U.K. Environment Agency (EA). Bevan based his remarks on the best climate and hydrology predictions available for England’s water future. The brunt of the projected water shortage is expected to be borne by England’s heavily populated southeast.

In his speech to the Waterwise Conference in March, Bevan explained that the “jaws of death” is an unofficial statistical term used frequently in the U.K. water sector. On a an X/Y graph with one line (water demand) tracking upward and the other (water supply) tracking downward, the two lines cross where supply can no longer meet demand. In the U.K., more and more companies are estimating that the lines will cross somewhere around the 20- to 25-year mark.

Climate change is expected to bring a 10 to 15% drop in freshwater resources as rainfall becomes less predictable and droughts become more likely. Concurrently, demand is predicted to rise as the population climbs from 67 million to an estimated 75 million in the next 30 years.

To combat predicted stress from climate change and population growth, Bevan said:

A twin-track approach is the right way to go, reducing demand for water at the same time as increasing supply to deal with the challenges of growth on the one hand and climate change on the other.

Call to Action

Non-revenue water is a major issue in the U.K., where 3 billion L/d leaks from pipes, a 20% loss equivalent to the daily water usage of 20 million people. Michael Roberts of Water UK sounded an optimistic note, reporting:

[…] the good news is that domestic consumption has been coming down for the last decade, and in terms of leakage, we are leaking a third less than we did 30 years ago, but there is a heck of a lot more to do.

The public is being called upon to conserve water, bringing average individual water use from 140 L/d to 100, with measures such as using low-flow fixtures and taking shorter showers. Bevan said:

We need water wastage to be as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby or throwing your plastic bags into the sea.

In terms of the big picture, Bevan’s speech on behalf of the UK EA seems to throw down the gauntlet, outlining stark realities and leading the public, government, and industry toward a commitment to averting a serious but avoidable crisis.

Reducing personal consumption to 100 L/d and cutting leakage by 50% would save enough water for 20 million more people by 2050 without using any more water from the environment. And, employing methods such as water reuse and desalination could be employed in case drought conditions significantly reduce the amount of groundwater and surface water available for consumption.