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Water is abstracted (withdrawn) from either freshwater (surface water and groundwater) or tidal water for a range of uses. While water issues exist many parts of the UK, this POSTnote focuses on proposed abstraction reforms in England and Wales. Total freshwater abstraction has declined by 15% since 2000, mainly because of a decline in water usage for electricity generation. However, demand is expected to rise by 9% over the next 30 years, largely because of forecast population growth of 6.6-16 million in England and Wales in areas already classified as ‘water stressed’. In addition, even currently water-rich areas such as the west of the UK are likely to experience supply-demand deficits by 2050 because of climate change.

Key points in this POSTnote include:

  • Freshwater resources in the UK will be affected by climate change and rising demand due to population growth.
  • The existing water abstraction (withdrawal) system is too inflexible to both protect freshwater environments and to meet future business and public water supply needs.
  • Proposed reforms to the abstraction system include measures to better link abstraction to water availability and to introduce quicker and easier trading of abstraction permits.
  • A ‘twin-track’ approach of managing both water supply and demand may help to achieve water supply resilience.
  • Water resource decision-making could benefit from increased stakeholder collaboration and better integration with land management.

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Mike Acreman, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology*

  • Iain Brown, York University/SEI*

  • Christina Cook, University of British Columbia*

  • Rob Cunningham, RSPB*

  • Lord Deben, Climate Change Committee

  • Gareth Edwards, University of East Anglia*

  • Dustin Garrick, University of Oxford*

  • Helen Gavin, Atkins*

  • Jim Hall, University of Oxford*

  • Paul Hammett, NFU*

  • Peter Hetherington, Ofwat*

  • Doug Hunt, Atkins

  • Peter Huxtable, British Aggregates

  • Daniel Johns, CCC Adaptation Sub-Committee*

  • Henry Leveson-Gower, Defra*

  • Sarah Mukherjee, Water UK

  • Rose O’Neill, WWF*

  • Ian Pemberton, Ofwat*

  • Alice Piure, Anglian Water*

*Denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.


Documents to download

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