Water companies in the South East join forces

They want to address climate change challenge and looming water supply shortfalls

The scale of the future water security challenge facing the South East has been unveiled with the publication of the first ever regional water resources plan. The emerging regional plan sets out the action that could be needed to avoid a potential 1 billion litre per day shortfall in water supplies within the next 15 years, which is around a fifth of the total amount of water currently provided each day by the six water companies that operate across the region. This could rise to 2.6 billion litres per day by 2060.

Prepared by Water Resources South East (WRSE), the emerging regional plan looks beyond the boundaries of individual water companies and considers the future water needs of all customers, water users and the environment across the South East and how they could be met.

A consultation launched today shows that by 2040, the combination of climate change, population growth, the need to provide higher levels of protection to the water environment and increasing how resilient the region’s supplies are to drought, could require a long-term programme of investment of around £8 billion to avoid a shortfall in water supplies in the South East.  This could rise to £17 billion by 2060.

The emerging plan tackles the environmental emergency facing the region’s waters. It considers how water companies could further reduce their reliance on sensitive sources, such as chalk rivers and groundwater, that could be vulnerable to climate change. It identifies the options needed to replace them including alternative sources and ambitious and sustained reductions in how much water is used and wasted.

In the period between 2025 and 2040 this includes:

  • Around £5 billion of investment by water companies to reduce leakage and help customers use water more efficiently and identifies the need for Government to act to reduce water use across society
  • The development of three new reservoirs in the region to store more water when it is available
  • Schemes that will enhance the treatment of wastewater so it can be returned to the environment from where it will be abstracted and used again
  • More than 200 nature-based schemes that would see water companies working with environmental groups to improve the region’s rivers and streams that provide water supplies.

Beyond 2040 the emerging plan identifies additional options that could be needed including moving water from different parts of the country and additional reservoirs, water recycling and desalination schemes.

Chris Murray, Independent Chair of WRSE, said: “The South East faces the most severe pressure on its water supplies of any region of the country. It is warmer, more densely populated and is the home of more of the iconic chalk streams that we are seeking to preserve than any other part of the country. The climate emergency is and will continue to have a profound impact on our water environment, so this plan aims to mitigate that through a long-term programme of investment that prepares us for the years ahead by changing how we use water and where we source it from.

“This plan is a huge step forward in regional water resource planning and in developing it we have considered thousands of options that have resulted in an emerging plan that shows the potential for more connectivity than we have ever seen before. The degree of collaboration in getting us to this point is beyond what has we have previously witnessed, and I am grateful to those who have engaged with us so far.

“It responds directly to the assessment made by the National Infrastructure Commission for the need to take a twin-track approach that will both reduce demand for water and boost supplies to avoid the far-reaching consequences a serious drought would have on the region’s economy, environment and wider society. This consultation is an important part of our journey to develop a regional plan that not only provides enough water for future generations but delivers wider benefits to people and places.”

To find out more about WRSE’s emerging regional plan and respond to the consultation visit www.wrse.org.uk the consultation is open until 14 March 2022. Responses to the consultation will be used to develop the draft regional plan produced later in 2022. The six WRSE water companies will use the draft regional plan to derive their individual draft Water Resource Management Plans that will be published in Autumn 2022.