World Water Day: Climate Change, Water and Us

Posted: 22 March 2024

undefinedWorld Water Day 2024This World Water Day, we want to put a spotlight on how our water supply and climate change are at the forefront of all of our minds.

Climate change is redefining global weather patterns, and the UK is increasingly feeling the impacts of this. In recent years, we have experienced a series of unprecedented weather events, causing serious implications for water companies over concerns for water resources and also network maintenance.

The effects of climate change

In 2021, the Environment Agency reviewed water availability and doubled the number of areas categorised as ‘seriously water stressed’ to 14. Many of these areas are facing significant pressure from climate change and population density.

There is often confusion surrounding what climate change means for us in the UK, especially around how ‘global warming’ could possibly cause more rainfall, flooding and cold temperature snaps, whilst simultaneously driving an increase in heatwaves and droughts.

There is scientific consensus that climate change is ultimately causing an increase (both in frequency and severity) in extreme weather events, due to changes in atmospheric circulation caused by the change in energy balance of the global system. Hence, both ends of the extreme weather spectrum are becoming more common here in the UK.

Heatwaves have become increasingly prevalent in recent decades, also arriving more frequently and intensely, highlighting the accelerating trend of extreme heat events.

Six of the top ten hottest days on record in England have been within the past decade, and only one was from pre-1990.

Posing risks to the nation’s health, infrastructure and also exacerbating water scarcity, heatwaves also increase stress on ecosystems. Temperature issues can also lead to raw water quality issues, requiring further water treatment, whether that be through the use of chemicals or energy-intensive processes as compounds can become harder to treat.  

The final temperature-related challenge is that of burst pipes. As the ground freezes in winter, this movement causes pipes within the ground to be burst. Freeze-thaw events and drying out of the ground as temperatures rise rapidly also cause an increase in the prevalence of bursts, being affiliated with any time the ground compacts or expands.  

Increases in rainfall and flooding events also align with an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The winter of 2019-2020 witnessed storms including Ciara and Dennis causing widespread flooding across England, breaking rainfall records. These wetter winters see an increased risk of flooding which presents challenges as to how these huge flows can be captured without creating expensive, carbon-intensive and infrequently used infrastructure. Whereas ideally, water from such flooding events would stay in our catchment area, in reality, flood events tend to flow away quickly and not be absorbed.

Conversely, periods of drought where less than 0.2mm of rain falls within 15 days are also now more common. Many areas of the UK have suffered from drought-related water shortages at least five times in the past decade, with dry spells likely becoming more severe in the future. Whilst water companies and the government seek to minimise the impact of such water shortages on customers, there are many opportunities to work with our customers and other stakeholders to both manage and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

What can we do?

The most important thing we can all do to save and manage the impacts of climate change on water, (and also money and carbon!) is to use less water. Lessening the demand pressure on water resources is both the easiest and most crucial way to best be able to cope with a reduced water supply over coming years. Our daily water usage in England has doubled since 1975 and we use much more water than countries such as Denmark, who use just 99 litres a day. By developing water-efficient habits within our lives, we can significantly reduce the need to abstract as much water from our natural environment, preserving ecosystems and improving resilience.

At Cambridge Water, we want to - enhance public awareness and understanding of climate change and concerns over water scarcity.

  • continue to improve the resilience of our network to better cope with all potential outcomes predicted by climate models.
  • target further efficiencies in our operations to achieve Net Zero by 2030, including further reduction in fossil fuel usage, renewable energy investments and energy-efficient assets to incorporate AI.
  • lower the Per Capita Consumption (PCC) of our supply areas from around 150 to 110 litres per person per day to relieve pressures on our water resources and environment.
  • reduce leakage by 15% between 2020 and 2025 towards our goal of 50% reduction by 2050. We are on track for this and will continue to invest in identifying leaks more quickly and accurately.
What can everyone do to save water?
  • Turn the tap off when brushing your teeth! It sounds simple, and hopefully, you’ve heard it a lot, however, so many people still send 24 litres of water a day down the drain from leaving it running.
  • Showering for 4 minutes. At a rate of around 12 litres a minute, showers are hugely water-intensive. Consider one-song-long showers and limiting shower warm-up time to save water.
  • Ensure your dishwashers and washing machines are full before being switched on. Modern washing machines use around 50-80 litres of water, so limiting the number of washes per week can provide huge water and cost savings to your home.
  • Switch to using watering cans and water butts in your garden. Hoses can use up to 1000 litres an hour, so a switch could save countless litres.
  • Plan your garden to be water efficient where possible, such as by planting drought-resistant plants.