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The Institution of Civil Engineers Institute / association Website
Last edited 26 Sep 2016

Water management strategies



[edit] Introduction

Two landmark reports concerning water management in the UK were published in Sept 2016.

Although they represent two opposing ends of the spectrum – flooding and drought – the outcomes of both should form the backbone of water management strategies in the decades to come.

[edit] Flood resilience

The government's National Flood Resilience Review outlines the need for improved rain and flood modelling, a significant increase in new temporary flood defences and greater protection to infrastructure.

ICE Director General, Nick Baveystock, said:

"This report rightly emphasises the need to protect critical infrastructure during extreme flooding so the public, businesses and communities can continue to function. An integrated approach to infrastructure is absolutely key to achieving this level of resilience and we are pleased this has been acknowledged."

Key next steps from the review are to improve local resilience and a rolling programme of modelling improvements.

[edit] Drought resilience

Drought and consequential impacts on public water supply, agriculture and the environment can also lead to significant disruption and economic damage. Common themes between long-term water resource planning and the National Flood Resilience Review are the need for resilience and the use of appropriate modelling tools and data.

Under the Water Act 2014, both the Secretary of State and water regulator Ofwat have a duty to further the "resilience objective" in England and Wales.

Water companies already consider the resilience of their operations to various types of event – floods, fire, and drought – but concerns about water resource resilience in the context of UK Public Water Supply (PWS) infrastructure led Water UK, which represents water service providers, to fund a six month study into the risks to PWS from a combination of climate change, population growth, and environmental protection.

Water UK's report, Water resources long-term planning framework (2015-2065), was published on 13 September 2016.

[edit] Long-term water resource planning

Currently, water companies' Water Resource Management Plans (WRMPs) cover 25 years, but the Environment Agency encourages them to look further ahead.

The Water UK study, which covers England and Wales, takes a 50-year perspective and has developed new approaches to modelling droughts, climate change impacts and the resilience of supplies. The project's timescale means that its recommendations offer only a first, high level assessment.

Further work will be required to test the assumptions made and methods used. The work has however been reviewed by an independent review panel, external to the project team.

Key findings from the report include:

  • There is a significant and increasing risk of severe drought across much of the south and east of England.
  • Although the impacts of climate change on drought risk are uncertain, it may already be causing increased drought risk. Planning on the basis of past hydrology is therefore no longer acceptable.
  • A strong case for the UK and Welsh governments to consider adopting national minimum levels of resilience. This will help to ensure that ways for inter-regional transfers of water are consistent.
  • The costs of improving water resource resilience are relatively modest compared with the costs of PWS restrictions during extreme drought events.
  • The requirement for the water industry, government and regulators to jointly develop responses to the very real risks posed by droughts more extreme than those seen historically.

[edit] Resilience across the spectrum

There is a strong parallel between the outcomes of the Water UK study and the National Flood Resilience Review, namely to improve resilience and to improve modelling tools.

The Water UK study in particular provides a significant new evidence base to inform the National Infrastructure Commission's 30 year strategic vision, to be published in its first National Infrastructure Assessment.

Its spatially consistent data on historic and possible future drought episodes is critical to our understanding of the future of our water resources, an area being explored further by the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC) project.

As weather patterns continue to break records month by month, it is imperative that the recommendations of both reports are embedded into long-term infrastructure strategies.

This article was originally published as 'Reports emphasise why we need to plan for extreme weather – from floods to droughts' on 23 Sept 2016. It was written by Ben Piper.

--The Institution of Civil Engineers

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