Blog Post: Tuesday March 20, 2018

Water Resource Challenges in the UK

In this Water Saving Week blog, Heather Anderson, Strategic Planner at Scottish Water, talks about water resource challenges across the UK. It is important that we save water across the UK, despite different levels of water resource stress. For more information and tips on how to save water, check out the #WaterSavingWeek website.

Water resources and their management are vastly different across Great Britain. The UK is perceived to have a wet climate, which might be expected to translate to high water availability. However, Southern England already experiences water scarcity and even in Scotland, droughts are not unheard of.

Water Resources in Scotland, England and Wales

Two-thirds of water in England and Wales comes from surface water and the other third from groundwater. In Scotland, Scottish Water manages the supply of water to 194 water resource zones (WRZ), double the entire number in England and Wales.  Surface water accounts for approximately 96% of the water abstracted in Scotland and groundwater only, 4%. Despite having a population of only 5 million people, Scottish Water is the 4th largest water and wastewater service provider in the UK and employs approximately 4,000 people across Scotland. 167 of the 194 WRZ in Scotland are supplied by a single water treatment works (WTW). This highlights some of the challenges faced by Scottish Water in delivering an equitable service to all its domestic customers, whether they live in the larger cities or in the more remote communities on the islands.

Climate Change

Although the challenges that face each region are very different, they all have one significant challenge in common – climate change. Summers are projected to get warmer and drier and meeting demand may prove increasingly difficult.

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Figure 1: UKCIP Climate Projections for Summer Average Rainfall at 50% Probability for Low, Medium and High Climate Change Scenarios for 2080.

Demand management is therefore a crucial component of climate change preparations. In spite of this, pressures on the water that is available are increasing. The population in Scotland is growing and the Scottish Government hopes to build an additional 50,000 affordable homes in Scotland by 2020/21.

Water pricing has been high on the water management agenda since Dublin Principle 4 proclaimed water as an “economic good” in 1992. The Walker Report (2009) said that a charging system for water should encourage efficient use of water to maintain a sustainable water supply.

Demand Management in England and Wales

In England and Wales, the water industry was privatised in 1989 as it was believed that treating water as a commodity would increase competition, reduce costs and therefore improve efficiency. Water was historically charged on the basis of a properties rateable value. Larger households had a higher water bill than smaller households. However, water meters have been installed in old properties where householders opted to have them and in new properties. These customers pay for their water on a volumetric basis, which means they pay for what they use. This is believed to be an effective demand management tool as people are more aware of the water they use and are more likely to adopt water efficient behaviours.

There are various other measures taken to integrate water efficiency into everyday life. For example, in Eastleigh, Southern Water have offered developers a 50% discount on water connections for new properties, if the developers use water fittings which are rated A or B under the European Water Label. Changes to building regulations in 2010 also stipulate that water use for a new home should not exceed 125L per person per day.

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Figure 2: European Water Label assigned to devices and fittings to indicate relative water use.


Demand Management in Scotland

In Scotland, water is paid for as part of council tax. There is currently no political appetite to install meters in Scotland, but a water efficiency trial has been ongoing for the past 5 years to investigate water demand and usage patterns. This is due to conclude in April. Water efficiency is largely promoted through soft measures, such as education campaigns, and a pilot water efficiency pack project.

Water Efficiency Pack Project

The water efficiency pack project is being implemented in partnership with The Energy Saving Trust. Whilst saving water is the primary objective of the project, by reducing hot water use through water efficient behaviours, there is a significant saving to be made on energy. In this way, this project can help vulnerable customers in or at risk of fuel poverty.

The pack contains various water saving devices and are tailored to customers’ requirements. They can be ordered online, but the preferred delivery method is with direct customer engagement where advice can be given, as it has been shown that the installation of devices in consort with advice derives the greatest benefits. Events are being held across Scotland until 2021 with the aim being to reach the 2% of Scottish households most vulnerable to water shortages. It is hoped that collaborating with customers proves to be a cost-effective way to manage demand.

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Figure 3: Water Efficiency Pack Event in Elgin, February 2018

The challenges that face water companies vary across the UK. Arguably, climate change is the biggest challenge. Demand management will be key to ensure the sustainable use of water. Water efficiency is an integral component of water resource planning and will likely be crucial in the adaptation to diminishing water availability.

Keywords: scotland > water resources > water saving week >