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Last edited 10 Feb 2022
How adaptive planning is being used to future-proof water supplies in the South East
Water Resources South East (WRSE) is one of five regional groups collaborating with government, stakeholders and regulators to develop the first region-wide infrastructure investment plans for water resources. Regional plans were born from the Environment Agency’s 2020 National Framework for Water Resources, which first set out the scale of the national challenge – and the need for much greater collaboration to meet it.
Each regional group has its own unique challenges – and the South East is the biggest of any in the country. Our region’s climate is warmer than the rest of England, and some parts are so densely populated that they have less water per head than many Mediterranean countries.
The South East of England is home to most of the country’s iconic chalk streams - which face their own pressures from climate change and our historic reliance on them for high-quality water resources.
A key part of our response is to embrace adaptive planning. Through extensive modelling – shaped by stakeholders’ and customers’ views – and working with our member companies, we’ve produced our emerging regional plan based on different adaptive pathways.
The first 15 years are based on our central pathway, the most representative of the full range of potential scenarios to 2040. We have outlined solutions to become resilient to a one-in-500-year drought – the level proposed by the National Infrastructure Commission. This pathway provides a flexible foundation for the future, giving us the platform to adapt to even the most ambitious, or challenging, long-term scenarios.
After 2040, our plan splits into three pathways, covering a wider range of potential scenarios. Each of these will enable us to meet the abstraction reductions needed, and the pathway we take will depend on what the future looks like - so we’re treating each as equally likely while we understand the uncertainties.
|Scenarios by 2060 of how much water could be needed to meet future population growth.|
This approach means we can identify all the potential options we might require so we can propose adaptable solutions to meet whichever future does happen.
From 17 January 2022, we’re consulting on our emerging regional plan, focusing on the first 15 years. Improving environmental sustainability is, by far, the biggest driver for change, and our initial assessment is that improving leakage and water efficiency could meet half our water needs by 2040.
We’ve also worked closely with representatives of large water-using sectors, such as power and agriculture, to understand their needs and explore solutions that can increase their resilience alongside the public water supply.
To give an idea of scale, the investment required over the lifetime of our plan is between £15 billion and £17 billion delivered through companies’ Water Resources Management Plans and business plans.
 New solutions, new challenges
This links to a wider challenge about ensuring our solutions are complementary and work in combination. We need to make sure investment in hard infrastructure doesn’t preclude nature and catchment-based solutions, and the two approaches are mutually supportive and work in harmony.
Through all of this, we must be mindful of our carbon impact. Reducing demand will have an impact on emissions, but so will new infrastructure. We need to embed low, or zero, carbon approaches into our solutions from the earliest design stage.
Meeting these challenges won’t be easy. We need to be more dynamic and flexible than we’ve been before while being mindful of future uncertainty, changing government policy and increasing cost challenges faced by customers and businesses.
This article originally appeared on the Infrastructure Blog portion of the ICE website. It was written by Trevor Bishop, organisational director for WRSE and published on 17 January 2022.
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