Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive at the Environment Agency, said the country is staring into the “jaws of death”, where the ever-growing population surpasses the falling supply of water.
Sir James said climate change means people should cut their water use by a third, half of all leaking pipes must be repaired, and huge new reservoirs, treatment plants and transport pipes built if England is to continue quenching its thirst.
“Around 25 years from now, where those [where demand overtakes supply] lines cross is known by some as the ‘jaws of death’ – the point at which we will not have enough water to supply our needs, unless we take action to change things,” Sir Bevan told the Guardian.
Sir Bevan spoke to the newspaper before a speech at Tuesday’s Waterwise conference in London. He said attitudes to water wastage need to alter, and added that supply companies must understand that climate change is their “biggest operating risk”.
Michael Roberts, CEO of strategists Water UK, agrees.
Speaking to the iNews, he said: “A twin-track approach is the right way to go, reducing demand for water at the same time as increasing supply to deal with the challenges of growth on the one hand and climate change on the other.”
Mr Roberts said water companies have committed to cut leakage by 50 per cent by 2050 – which could be too late.
While the Environment Agency has proposed building new reservoirs and distribution chains in England in order to maintain an adequate supply, others think there are alternative solutions, and bolder plans are required.
Peter Murphy, director of consultancy firm UK Water (not to be confused with Water UK), said Scotland is the answer to England’s problems.
He told iNews: “Loch Ness has more water than all of England and Wales combined. And that’s just one loch – Scotland has more than 31,000 freshwater lochs, and most are unused.
“Scotland has a small population and has about 100 times more water than it uses. The country’s hydrological cycle is only going to improve – climate change means Scotland is going to get warmer, and therefore wetter.
“Scotland’s population will probably increase too, but we should all be thinking about investment and opportunity. Scotland lends itself to water collection – rerouting water to England would cost less than HS2. There’s a lot of short-sightedness.
“Birmingham would go dry in a day if it wasn’t for Wales. It’s the United Kingdom after all”.
Climate change fears Mr Murphy was talking about the Elan Valley Reservoirs, a chain of purpose-built lakes, damns and rivers in mid-Wales, which supply England’s second city.
The system was built in the 1800s and finished in 1904 at a cost of £8 million.
In 2016, the BBC reported Severn Trent Water had begun the £325m Birmingham Resilience Project, which will see water from the River Severn at Lickhill pumped into the city.
The scheme, set to be completed in 2020, means an emergency supply will be available when the Elan Valley Aqueduct is drained for repairs.
Such work shows just how fragile England’s water supply is.
By 2040, Britain is forecasted to be regularly enduring summers hotter than the 2003 heatwave, which Sir Bevan said will leave the country with 50-80 per cent less water in some rivers.
This, in tandem with the fact the UK population is expected to grow from 67 million to 75 million in 30 years, spells a hazardous future.
• This article originally appeared in our sister publication the iNews.