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Building in a Water Scarce Future

Posted: 14th May 2024

Nathan Richardson

Head of Policy and Strategy


Water deserves to be valued and used wisely. It gives us life; brings us joy; helps grow the food we eat and supports the environment we cherish. Just imagine what it would be like for just one day without it being on tap when we wanted it.

The water scarcity challenge

But this risk could be a reality if we don’t act. Study after study over the last 5 years has found that we face a huge water supply deficit of around 5000 million litres a day (Mld) in England if we want to enable growth, have secure water supplies and a healthy environment in the face of climate change. We are already seeing examples in Sussex, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk where business growth and in some cases housing development is being put on hold due to a lack of sustainable water supply.

Part of the reason for the deficit is that we are using more water…a lot more water. Personal water use in England has risen by around 60% since the 1960s and there are around 13 million more of us living here. The net effect is that, overall, we are using around 5,000 Mld more in our homes now than 60 years ago.

Time for solutions

It is clear that we urgently need solutions to reduce water demand. The UK Water Efficiency Strategy to 2030 developed by Waterwise provides a lot of the answers across its 10 strategic objectives.

The water sector in their latest round of plans (2025 - 2030) has also included ambitious programmes to halve the deficit by reducing water demand - tackling network leakage, rolling out smart water meters and working with water users to help them reduce in-property wastage and encourage them to adopt water saving behaviours.

Alongside action from the water sector the government is taking policy action and, for the first time, we now have a statutory water demand reduction target to reduce the amount of water going into public supplies in England by 20% per head by 2038. The target is supported in the Plan for Water by a 10 point roadmap for more water efficient buildings recognising the crucial role that the design and construction of our future buildings has to play.

A key element in the Plan for Water buildings roadmap is a review of water efficiency planning standards in Building Regulations 2010 as amended Part G. A consultation on a number of options is expected very soon and the Future Homes Hub has recently published its thoughts in the Water Ready report. It is inevitable that we will see far tougher water standards for new development in the near future.

In terms of water using fittings in new development the four governments across the UK are committed to bring in a mandatory water efficiency label on water using products in 2025. Similar labels are already successful internationally and make it easier for regulators to specify the efficiency grade of products for example in new development and for developers and specifiers (and the public) to find efficient products.

There is also work underway to address issues such as leak prone dual flush toilets that are estimated to be wasting around 400 million litres of water a day and to sort out the issue of confusing dual flush buttons where research has shown users consistently press the wrong button as it is not obvious from their design which button does what despite the law requiring it.

Time to get involved

So far so good but what stands out in the UK Water Efficiency Strategy to 2030 is that as water users, we ALL need to play a part in reducing water demand. This week is Water Saving Week and we can all do more to make sure we are using water wisely and not wasting water in our workplaces, jobs and in our home life. Water really is worth saving and if we can crack it then we will see the benefits for people, business and the environment.

Nathan Richardson

Head of Policy and Strategy