Water companies must protect us from drought

The recent record hot weather and low rainfall is a reminder to us all that water is a precious commodity.

The current conditions are very unusual, but we have systems in place to respond and they are working. Water companies have a duty to ensure adequate supply and they have assured me that essential supplies are safe. We continue to work, alongside the Environment Agency, to scrutinize that and closely monitor the situation. In accordance with their drought plans, water companies across the country have rightly taken action to mitigate the effects of this prolonged dry weather using the range of tools available to them. I strongly urge others to do the same.

The Government is also taking action to build resilience in our water resources now and for the future.

That is why we are demanding significant investment in our water infrastructure. Ofwat, the industry regulator, set out a £51 billion five-year investment package in its 2019 Price Review which included requirements for water companies to cut leaks by 16 percent and reduce mains bursts by 12 percent. Water companies are investing £469 million to investigate and develop options like new reservoirs, recycling and transfer schemes to ensure we have sufficient water supplies right across the country.

We have also published a draft National Policy Statement for water resources infrastructure to streamline the process of gaining planning permission for nationally significant water infrastructure projects such as new reservoirs or water recycling facilities. We expect this to be finalized later this year.

We are also working hard to reduce how much water we consume. Under the world-leading Environment Act, we have proposed a new statutory water demand target for water companies to reduce use per person in England by 20 percent. This will be met by reducing water leakage by almost one-third by 2037 and a 9 percent reduction in water use for business and industry. The Government has also set out measures, such as mandatory water efficiency labelling, to help reduce personal water consumption to 110 liters per day by 2050 by supporting consumer choices, without affecting the quality of life of households. We will shortly be setting out the next steps to implement this.

While this government is taking action to improve the resilience of our water supply, it is important to note that we can all do our part to use water wisely and to responsibly manage this precious resource. Saving water is about reducing unnecessary consumption, not restricting essential use. There are lots of actions you can take to save water at home and in the garden. Installing a water-saving device in your toilet cistern or checking your household appliances for leaks can save huge amounts of water.

But this should never solely be about individual consumer action. The onus must be on water companies to do more to reduce leakage, building on progress made in recent years. We must eliminate water leakage across the entire network if we want to secure our water supply for the future. We expect water companies to step up, to adapt, innovate better in their approaches to reducing demand, and better support customers with measures to reduce water consumption. If we don’t see the changes we and the public rightly expect, I won’t hesitate to step in and take further action.

Water companies have a duty to ensure supplies. We will continue to monitor the situation and challenge them to go further. There is still lots to be done, but this government is taking more action than ever to secure our water supplies and protect the planet.

George Eustice is the Secretary of State for Defra


George Eustice is the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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