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How can UK water suppliers prepare for drought?

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A state of drought was officially declared in Southeast England in February 2012, with below average rainfall causing rivers to run dry and reservoir banks to be exposed. At the time, residents in the region were urged to limit showers to four minutes and turn off taps while brushing their teeth. The situation eventually improved and severe drought was avoided, but the experience raised the issue of prevention.

The Met Office traced the origins of the drought back to the period between winter 2009/10 and March 2012, when many parts of England and Wales endured numerous dry months. The weather agency even described the period as one of the ten most significant one-to-two-year droughts of the past 100 years.
 

Drought resilience measures

Four years later, some might struggle to remember the hosepipe bans, wildfires and struggling harvests of 2012. However, Water UK’s September 2016 publication, ‘Water resources long term planning framework’, has raised concerns about the risk in England and Wales over the next 50 years. The organisation is calling on the water industry to make changes and lessen the threat, but what can be done to prevent drought?

To produce its report, Water UK used new modelling techniques to run various scenarios that could impact England and Wales in the decades to come. This also enabled the organisation to propose measures for improving efficiency and avoiding shortages.

The first approach calls for suppliers to reduce customer demand, which would lessen the strain on supply. Practically, this would involve changes being made to homes and business premises through installing smart meters, raising building standards and reducing water mains leakage.

Meanwhile, a more progressive solution would be to transfer water between regions by using new and existing waterways and reservoirs. This would enable areas in surplus to send excess supply to locations experiencing shortages.
 

The cost of change

When justifying action, Water UK estimated that severe drought could cost up to £1.3 billion a day if widespread parts of England and Wales are affected. Even if a fraction of that estimate occurred, it would be detrimental for the water industry and the wider economy.

Water UK quoted an annual £4 per customer cost of increasing reliance to cope with “severe” events. At this level, the organisation also estimated the benefit-to-cost ratio as being 10:1 at highest and 4:1 at lowest. Meanwhile, the £4 cost would double to £8 if the industry safeguarded against “extreme” drought.
 

Reducing flood risk

Severe weather conditions can reach far beyond drought, with the UK witnessing serious flooding in areas such as Cumbria, Somerset and Yorkshire in recent years. By improving water management, England and Wales could also reduce flood risk, according to the ‘National Flood Resilience Review published by the government in September 2016.

If the water industry had the right infrastructure, it might even be possible to transfer excess supply away from areas at risk of flooding, with the surplus stored for dry periods of the year. Moving forward, these recent reports have highlighted the need for synergy and investment in the industry.

In the meantime, water suppliers must be shrewder than ever with their financial management so they're prepared for future measures to tackle drought. Dukes Bailiffs can help your company collect utility bills quickly and efficiently, allowing your investment pool to increase. 

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