Parts of northern England could be affected by major water shortages as soon as 2035, a new report suggests.
With its reputation for wet weather, the north of the country is not generally associated with the impending threat of drought, however a paper published by thinktank IPPR North reveals demand could outstrip supply within 20 years.
Without intervention, Yorkshire Water forecasts that its supplies will fall into a deficit from 2035/36 – a scenario the report attributes primarily to the impact of climate change.
The paper states: “Climate change has already had, and will continue to have, a significant effect on water supply in the North, as well as elsewhere in the country.
“The likelihood of drought is projected to increase, and overall average summer river flows may decrease across the UK, leading to reduced water availability and lower river water quality.
“Risk of flooding is likely to increase, particularly during winter.”
Further factors contributing to a stress on water supply are cited in the report, including population growth and potential increased demand for energy which, when centred on non-renewable sources such as burning coal or natural gas, creates an additional demand on the water supply.
Although the rising demand is likely to be mitigated in part by increased water efficiency – an effect created both by tighter Government regulations and a heightened public awareness around the issue of water waste – the report warns of a need to take further action to reduce UK water consumption.
As the paper points out, the current UK average of 141 litres per person, per day remains significantly higher than Germany’s 121 litres per day, despite a slow trend of reduced consumption overall.
The report also outlines the importance of water supply to the Northern Powerhouse project as a whole, and its potential to threaten ongoing investment and infrastructure.
It states: “To date, strategic discussions about the future of the Northern Powerhouse have failed to engage properly with the potential impact on water systems, and with the increasingly urgent need to manage demand for water in future.
“This will potentially lead to poor decision-making, given that the risk of failure, namely, increased pressure on water supplies would pose a substantial risk to the success of these plans, and would undermine the potential benefit to the Northern economy of water trading schemes.”
Opportunities for improving water supply systems could bring a positive economic benefit to the north of England, the report points out, whilst maintaining that households, businesses, and political leaders alike have a responsibility to bring ‘shared solutions’ to the problem.
Jack Hunter, the report’s author and IPPR North research fellow, said: “This report is part of a series of briefing papers we’ve been working on which focus on the role that northern England’s environmental resources have in the Northern Powerhouse as a whole.
“The north is blessed with incredible natural resources which bring a lot of money into the local economy and could be utilised even further, but these opportunities have to be managed responsibly.
“Though it’s not explicitly referred to in the report, in a nation as centralised as the the United Kingdom we have to think about the difference that could be made if local authorities or metro-mayors for example were given the power to steward their own environments.”