East Of England Challenges: Water Scarcity, Population Growth & Climate Change

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While there can be no denying that each region around the UK will face their own set of unique challenges in the future, it seems that the east of England in particular has potentially hard times ahead, with new research revealing that the next 20 years will see significant rainfall decreases, record high temperatures and more than 720,000 new residents in the area.


Commissioned by Anglian Water (the utility company that supplies the region), the Thriving East report – compiled by Capital Economics – assessed geographic, climate and socio-economic factors to see just how these combined forces would present challenges in the east of the country.


It was found that the region actually faces the most severe risks of anywhere else in the country, apart from London, with temperatures predicted to be hotter than the national average and record low rainfall levels of 2.14mm per day… less than any other part of the UK.


One of the biggest issues for the breadbasket of England (so called because 75 per cent of the land in the east is used for agriculture and the region is home to some of the UK’s most productive farms and food businesses) is water scarcity.


Water is essential for growth and prosperity, but demand for supplies is only going to increase in the east, where four of the fastest growing cities can be found.


In addition, the Humber region boasts the biggest opportunities for industrial decarbonisation, while both Norfolk and Suffolk are quickly making names for themselves as key hydrogen power hubs… all of which is putting even more pressure on already dwindling water supplies.


Climate change


Climate change is, of course, exacerbating the situation in what is already one of the driest and hottest parts of the country.


Come 2040, it’s predicted that temperatures will be hotter than the national average, reaching 11.4 degrees C compared to 11 degrees. The impact of this is already being felt, with the hottest day ever recorded by the Met office in Coningsby in Lincolnshire last year, where temperatures peaked at 40.3 degrees C.


Rainfall patterns are also becoming more unpredictable as a result of the changing climate, affecting the availability and quality of water resources. It’s expected that by 2050 more severe drought conditions will lead to a deficit of 80 million litres of water a day in surface water sources.


Groundwater sources will also feel the pinch, but restricting access to water can be achieved through making changes to abstraction licences, which can help support the environment. As such, investments need to be made now in order to shore up supplies and ensure that water shortages can be avoided during periods of drought in the future.


Anglian Water has adopted a twin-track approach to its water management strategies so that supply can meet demand.


For example, the company – alongside the Strategic Pipeline Alliance – has established an extensive network of interconnecting pipelines that will help ensure water can move more freely around the region, allowing for water to be moved from places with a natural surplus to those that are more at risk.


In addition, plans are now in place to build two new reservoirs, while investments have been made over the last few decades to help the firm tackle its water leakage rates. Smart meters have also been rolled out to help encourage awareness of water consumption to help drive down usage rates.


Another issue that the east will have to contend with is that of flooding. Some 30 per cent of the region is low lying, with inland drought-affected land particularly vulnerable to floods after intense and heavy rainfall. Approximately 1.2 per cent of properties in the region are now considered to be at high risk of flooding, above the national average of 0.9 per cent.


To help address this concern, Anglian Water is working to improve resilience in those places that are at risk of both flooding and drought. One landscape-scale approach is the Future Fens: Integrated Adaptation programme, where water management and resilience planning converge to help mitigate the effects.


Here, Fen communities, businesses, local and national government partners, and water businesses are all coming together to help create environmental and social prosperity through the creation of two new reservoirs and new flood risk strategies designed to absorb flood water and help prevent such disasters in the future.


Population growth


Finally, one of the biggest pressures being put on water supplies in the east of England is, of course, population growth.


More people means that more water will be required, but supplies are already struggling and given that the east is expected to welcome an additional 720,000 residents in the next 20 years, it is now imperative to find ways in which this hike in demand can be met.


It means that the necessary infrastructure must be implemented to facilitate growth while protecting the natural world from further water abstraction, as well as providing other facilities like healthcare provisions, clean energy generation and new transport links.


Anglian Water’s vision for 2050 includes ensuring that the region has the capacity to support all those at risk of water poverty, supporting the water demands for new businesses and ensuring that planning requirements for new housing and commercial developments have international best practices for water efficiency at their heart.


Key areas for action


Based on the analysis put forward in the Thriving East report, Anglian Water believes there are several key areas where action is required.


Firstly, investment in water resources is required in order to unlock growth and help protect the environment; secondly, more resilient infrastructure is needed to tackle the challenges that lie ahead; thirdly, infrastructure development must be accelerated; and fourthly, more support is needed for blended public and private finance and funding.


The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities out there to help supercharge the east of England, everything from new green industries to new homes… but action must be taken urgently to ensure that the region’s full potential is unlocked in the future.