When it comes to water, the scale of the threat from our changing climate has never been laid out quite so starkly, and against such a dramatic backdrop that is drought.
Right now, the drought is serious; rainfall recorded in 2011 was 75% of the long-term average, making it the fourth driest year in the 128-year record. Most of the south east and eastern England have been in drought for some time, and last week south and east Yorkshire also followed suit after the two consecutive dry winters with below average rainfall.
As a result, from today hosepipe bans will be imposed on approximately 1.8 million households. This will be further bad news for water customers already worried by rising bills, which went up 5.7% on average this month. So, how could we have avoided this? And what are the implications?
The immediate implications for this drought are serious and extensive, which I don't believe the government have fully thought through. Has this government contemplated how this drought might affect our energy generation, many plants abstract water for cooling purposes. What impacts will this drought have on our farmers? Will they be given any assistance? We have heard very little from the Defra team on this front.
In the long term we need to reform the industry so it is more efficient, and less damaging to our natural environment, and we all as a community need to use less water. The government's lack of thought and action on these points is even more astonishing. Late last year the government released their Water White Paper, Water for Life. It's their plan to reform the water industry.
It builds on a number of reports commissioned by the Labour government. But, most worryingly it provides no action in this decade on the over abstraction of water. Today one in 10 rivers are being over abstracted to the extent that it may be damaging the natural environment. Reforms to tackle this problem don't kick in till 2030.
Regardless, the legislation to make the White Papers actions happen and reform the industry have been delayed. Defra has lost its slot in the forthcoming Queen's Speech - meaning that all we will see is a draft version of the legislation this year. That means market reform, action on abstraction, and proper management of catchments, which are all essential are all delayed.
The White Paper also provides no deep thought about action at the end of the pipeline, in domestic homes to 'Wetrofit' and boost water efficiency. Fundamentally, here in the UK we need to change the way we think about and use water. Compared to other European countries we consume a lot. In 2009 we consumed on average 101,000 litres per capita, in Germany that figure is almost half where its 55,000 litres per capita.
So now, with all our minds focused by the drought, and with the path to market reform set out by Labour when in government, there has never been a greater opportunity to reform the industry, to respond properly to the challenges posed by climate change and to future proof our water supply for our next generation. Yet, sadly and of course unsurprisingly this Tory government drags the chain and misses the opportunity. When this drought really starts hitting hard, the government's damp squib water white paper simply will not stack up.
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