Water companies must protect us from drought

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

The current conditions are highly unusual, but we have systems in place to respond and they are working. Water companies have a duty to ensure an adequate supply and they have assured me that essential supplies are safe. We continue to work, alongside the Environment Agency, to look into this and monitor the situation closely. In line with their drought plans, water companies across the country have rightly taken steps to mitigate the effects of this prolonged dry weather using the array of tools at their disposal. I strongly encourage others to do the same.

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

This is why we demand significant investments in our hydraulic infrastructures. Ofwat, the sector regulator, set out a five-year £51billion investment program in its 2019 price review, which included requirements for water companies to reduce leakage by 16% and reduce pipe breaks by 12%. Water companies are investing £469million to research and develop options such as new reservoirs, recycling and transfer schemes to ensure we have sufficient water supplies across the country.

We also released a draft national policy statement for water resources infrastructure to streamline the process of obtaining planning permission for water infrastructure projects of national significance such as new reservoirs or water recycling facilities. We hope this will be finalized later this year.

We also strive to reduce the amount of water we consume. Under the Environment Act, the world’s largest, we have proposed a new statutory water demand target for water companies to reduce consumption per person in England by 20%. This will be achieved by reducing water leakage by almost a third by 2037 and reducing water consumption for business and industry by 9%. 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 affect household quality of life. We will soon detail the next implementation steps.

As this government takes 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 responsibly manage this precious resource. Saving water is about reducing unnecessary consumption, not about restricting essential use. There are many steps you can take to save water at home and in the garden. Installing a water-saving device in your toilet tank or checking your appliances for leaks can save huge amounts of water.

But it should never be just a matter of individual consumer action. It is incumbent on water companies to do more to reduce leakage, building on the progress made in recent years. We must eliminate water leaks throughout the system if we are to secure our water supply for the future. We expect water companies to scale up, adapt, innovate more in their demand reduction approaches and better support customers in water reduction measures. 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 supply. We will continue to monitor the situation and challenge them to go further. Much remains to be done, but this government is doing more than ever to secure our water supplies and protect the planet.

George Eustice is the Secretary of State for Defra


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

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