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Sustainable water resources planning

Current plans

Water companies in England and Wales publish water resource management plans to set out how they intend to provide a secure and sustainable water supply for the next 25 years.

Latest resource management plans for England and Wales


Sustainable water resources planning
Water UK briefing paper
28 March 2007

Sustainable policies bring benefits by integrating responses to social, economic and environmental problems. They should be long-term, proportionate, innovative and people-focused.

For water resources management this means determined action in at least four areas: water efficiency and demand management; developing new resources; coordinating land use and water resources management; making water a mainstream economic issue.

Water companies follow a 'twin-track' approach to planning which takes into consideration supply and demand.

Demand side

Water companies exist to meet customer demand for water services. Companies also have a statutory obligation to promote the efficient use of water.

Demand is increasing in the UK, particularly in south-east England, where population, development and housing are groowing. Demographic changes, such as a rise in single person households, also mean that demand per person is rising.

It is expected that London will have 800,000 new citizens by 2015 and single person households will account for 35% of the UK total by 2021.

Companies promote water efficiency through a range of activities, including the provision of water-saving applicances and information to householders and developers, promotional campaigns, investment in infrastructure improvements, reducing leakage, increasing the use of meters, and support for Waterwise (the not-for-profit NGO designed to reduce water wastage).

Supply side

Options for increasing supply include abstraction from rivers and groundwater reservoirs, improved connections, water re-use and new or emerging technologies such as desalination. These options form an important part of a sustainable supply/demand balance but in the past few decades some trends have combined to reduce supply.

Pollution from agriculture and industry has degraded water sources, in some cases so severely that they have had to be decommissioned. Natural storage of water has been eroded; for example, wetlands have been drained to create more growing space. Planning policy has allowed more concrete to be poured, leading to faster run-off of rainwater and lower recharge of groundwater.

Climate change will increase supply concerns, with more extreme weather conditions and increased incidences of drought and flooding. This may affect the overall volume of available water and reduce the quality of surface water for summer abstraction. We will certainly need more winter storage.

However, farming and environmental policy developments should help our water supply.

Reform of European agriculture policy, especially the move from production subsidy to environmental stewardship, will help reduce diffuse water pollution. The Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires a comprehensive approach to the improvement of all water bodies, including protection of abstraction points for public supply. Integrated river basin management, required by the WFD, will involve all responsible groups and put an important new spotlight on looking after local water assets.

Coordinating land use and water planning

It is not sustainable to separate decisions about land use from decisions about water resources and public supply.

This has been increasingly recognised in recent years through:

 •  wider appreciation of the cost of water pollution from farms, industry and transport
 •  creation of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that brought agriculture and water together under the same leadership
 •  debate over proposals by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for an additional 200,000 new houses beyond existing South East development plans.

Water UK

Fri 22 Aug 2014, 12:45