England is set to run short of water within 25 years, the chief executive of the Environment Agency has warned.  This is as a result of the country’s rising population surpasses the falling supply resulting from climate change.

However, this could be avoided with ambitious action to cut people’s water use by a third and leakage from water company pipes by 50%, he says, along with big new reservoirs, more desalination plants and transfers of water across the country.

“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,” he said.

The population of the UK is expected to rise from 67 million to 75 million in 2050, increasing the demand for water. But Bevan says the average person’s daily water use of 140 litres could be cut to 100 litres in 20 years by more efficient use in homes and gardens. Currently, about a third of water is lost to leaks or wastage.

The most controversial change needed to increase supply is building new mega-reservoirs, such as that proposed near Abingdon in Oxfordshire. “We have not built a new reservoir in the UK for decades, largely because clearing all the planning and legal hurdles necessary is so difficult and local opposition so fierce,” Bevan says. The government plans to streamline the planning process. “That will be controversial, but it’s the right thing to do,” says Bevan.

More water will also need to be transferred across the country to water-stressed areas, such as the south-east, Bevan says, via pipelines or canals. Just 4% of current supplies are transferred between individual water companies, but there are plans for 20 new transfer projects. More desalination plants, such as Thames Water’s Beckton plant, will also be needed to turn seawater into drinking water, he says.

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