Six utility companies across the South East have joined forces to produce the first-ever regional water resources plan.
The document, prepared by Water Resource South East (WRSE), sets out the action that could be needed to avoid a potential one billion litre per day shortfall in water supplies within the next 15 years.
A consultation launched on Monday (January 17) shows that by 2040 the combination of climate change, population growth and the need to provide higher levels of protection to the water environment could require investment of around £8billion to avoid water shortages in the South East. This could rise to £17billion by 2060.
Between 2025 and 2040 potential actions could include the creation of three new reservoirs, including one at Blackstone near Henfield in West Sussex, around £5bn of investment by water companies to reduce leakages and help customers use water more efficiently as well as schemes to enhance the treatment of wastewater so it can be returned to the environment from where it can be abstracted again.
The plan also identifies the need for a desalination plant in the Shoreham area by 2040.
Water recycling schemes could also be introduced at Littlehampton and Peacehaven. This is where an extra stage is added at the wastewater treatment works. This highly treated water is transferred to a point on a nearby river or into a reservoir where it mixes with raw water and can be re-abstracted, treated again to drinking water stand and supplied to customers.
Beyond 2040 the emerging plan identifies additional options that could be needed including moving water from different parts of the country and additional reservoirs, water recycling and desalination schemes.
A spokesperson for Southern Water said: “We are collaborating with all our neighbouring water companies to deliver a resilient water future for the South East.
“As a water- scarce area we in have less to go around per person than Morocco. The challenges are large. EA chairman Sir James Bevan called population growth and climate change the ‘jaws of death.’ Ensuring enough fresh water requires long term thinking. This plan sets out different scenarios for future trends and looks at how to tackle them.
“It’s too soon to tell which if any of the major projects outlined in the WRSE plan will be needed but the message is clear- we need to think about water, talk about water and change our relationship with water.
“Whatever the future holds, we will confine to serve our customers and protect the environment by ensuring clean catchments, tackling leaks and helping our customers to be water efficient.”
Lee Dance, South East Water’s head of water resources, said: “This consultation marks a major milestone in the formation of this plan which has seen us collaborate far more than ever before with our neighbouring water companies to the benefit of our current and future customers.
“The region faces some tough challenges going forward, including population increase, changes to the environment and a reduction in the amount of water available for us to use. In creating the draft plan we have taken this into account and created an adaptive plan which looks at a range of different futures.
“In the near future proposals for South East Water’s supply area include continued reduction in water leaks, increasing water efficiency as well as catchment management and nature based solutions which ensure long term quality and quantity of water.
“In the longer term options include water recycling along the River Ouse at Peacehaven, East Sussex as well as a new reservoir at Broad Oak near Canterbury, Kent.
“We have more work to do before we publish the final plan, but we’re keen to get feedback on these proposals now to ensure all elements are considered and the final options put forward for supplying water into the future are suitable.”
Chris Murray, Independent Chair of WRSE, said: “The South East faces the most severe pressure on its water supplies of any region of the country. It is warmer, more densely populated and is the home of more of the iconic chalk streams that we are seeking to preserve than any other part of the country.
“The climate emergency is and will continue to have a profound impact on our water environment, so this plan aims to mitigate that through a long-term programme of investment that prepares us for the years ahead by changing how we use water and where we source it from.
“This plan is a huge step forward in regional water resource planning and in developing it we have considered thousands of options that have resulted in an emerging plan that shows the potential for more connectivity than we have ever seen before. The degree of collaboration in getting us to this point is beyond what has we have previously witnessed, and I am grateful to those who have engaged with us so far.
“It responds directly to the assessment made by the National Infrastructure Commission for the need to take a twin-track approach that will both reduce demand for water and boost supplies to avoid the far-reaching consequences a serious drought would have on the region’s economy, environment and wider society. This consultation is an important part of our journey to develop a regional plan that not only provides enough water for future generations but delivers wider benefits to people and places.”
To find out more about WRSE’s emerging regional plan and respond to the consultation visit www.wrse.org.uk
The consultation is open until March 14.
Responses to the consultation will be used to develop the draft regional plan produced later in 2022. The six WRSE water companies will use the draft regional plan to derive their individual draft water resource management plans that will be published in Autumn 2022.