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Water supply and demand management


DEFRA oversees a complex national water delivery landscape, of regulators and privately-owned water companies, in the face of the risk of impending water shortages in the UK. Ofwat is the economic regulator and the Environment Agency ensures there is enough water to meet demand and to maintain environmental standards.  The network of private water companies overseen by DEFRA and Ofwat employ a range of different operating models and while some are performing well, some are performing badly.

The Committee on Climate Change predicts that the demand for water in England will exceed supply by between 1.1 and 3.1 billion litres a day by the 2050s. Currently 3 billion litres  - a huge 20% of total supply  - are lost every day through leakage from pipes. The Department has faced criticism over its failure to highlight water reduction targets and poor public messaging around the need to reduce water use.

The NAO’s report ‘Water supply and demand management’ examines DEFRA’s leadership of government and the water industry in efforts to secure a resilient water supply, in the face of these challenges of water lost to leakage, climate change, and population growth.  

The report finds that total water supply is set to decrease by 7% by 2045 as a result of climate change and the need to avoid environmental damage to ground and surface water sources. If water companies do nothing demand will exceed supply in 2034-35.  

It also finds that DEFRA has not been able to ensure water efficiency is a priority across government; despite a commitment in 2018, it has yet to set a per capita consumption target for water companies. The NAO concludes that water companies have ambitious plans to reduce leakage, but they rely on as yet unknown or untested solutions. 

On Monday 1 June 2020 the Committee will question officials from DEFRA, Ofwat and the Environment Agency on DEFRA’s leadership and its work across government and with the water industry to strengthen the resilience of water supply.  

If you have evidence on the crucial issues of the UK’s water supply management raised by the NAO report please submit them here by 23:59 Wednesday 27 May 2020