In April 2018, the WRSE group held a workshop in Oxford bringing together experts in the water industry to explore and understand the potential impact of an extreme drought and how to manage it. The lead time into an extreme drought isn’t as long as we think – we are as little as 18 months away from an extreme drought, which can occur following 2 years of below average rainfall.
Extreme droughts will have serious ramifications for the UK, for its people, industry, health, environment, government and the economy. The effects of an extreme drought – the country running out of water – will impact on all aspects of life on a massive scale with potential irreparable economic and societal damage. The impacts to the south east of England would be particularly damaging due to the number of people in this part of the country.
Extreme drought would affect a wide range of stakeholders who utilise water. While water companies can lead on water supply, other sector groups must lead on people, property and economy to manage what would be a major incident.
A key recommendation from the workshop was to adopt a regional approach to managing an extreme drought situation to better balance the needs of various stakeholder groups, and ensure that risks are adequately invested against and balanced across the area. Further it was agreed by all to undertake the necessary pre-planning on a regional strategic level to try and avoiding the impacts of extreme drought as much as possible.
To this effect, the group will continue to work with stakeholders to develop a framework showing how a regional executive group can manage an extreme drought using greater leakage reductions, additional intra and inter-company transfers, greater abstractions from the environment, incentivising lower levels of consumption, temporary treatment, use of alternative supplies, use of non-potable water, metering and the use of drought plans and drought orders. Current guidance will be examined to ensure an extreme drought can be managed to identify and resolve any legislative clashes.