England could run short of water in 25 years: Environment Agency chief

England set to run short of water within 25 years, Environment Agency warns

The country is facing the '"jaws of death", Sir James Bevan said, at the point where water demand from the country's rising population surpasses the falling supply resulting from climate change.

Sir James said he wants the wasting of water to become "as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby".

"We will need to see more water transfers between regions from areas of water surplus to areas of deficit", he said. "We all need to use less water and use it more efficiently". Phrases like "existential threat" and "jaws of death" are, he admits, created to jolt people into facing uncomfortable truths.

This is twice the amount that residents of South Africa's drought-stricken Cape Town were allowed to use each day a year ago.

What's more, they say, reservoirs in a water shortage area like the Thames Valley is not a wise solution.

About 3 billion litres of water in England is wasted every day through leakages - the equivalent to that used by over 20 million people, it said.

The Waterwise conference this year is themed around the pathway to ambitious water efficiency - getting to 100 litres a day and lower.

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"In the last few decades we've radically changed behaviour on smoking (everybody did it) and seatbelts (nobody wore them)", he is expected to say.

"In the last two years we've changed behaviour on plastic. 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".

An average person in England uses 140 litres of water a day and usage is expected to rise, with the population set to hit 75 million in 2050 up from 67 million today, the Environment Agency said in its first major report in 2018 on water resources.

Sir James in his speech declined to get embroiled in the political arguments over whether water companies should remain privatised or be taken back into public ownership.

It is also working with water companies to ensure the business plans for 2020-25 reflect the investment and measures needed to ensure supply can meet demand in the future.

"The second line shows the water that will be available to supply those needs, and in all the water company plans this line goes down, as the effects of climate change kick in".

He said the United Kingdom has not built a new reservoir for decades, largely because there is often significant local opposition and a large amount of legal hurdles and barriers to be overcome. At Water UK's city conference a year ago Sir John Armitt, chair of the NIC, said the cost of building a new reservoir would be "peanuts" compared to a drought.

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