Report shows the impact of heatwaves on UK water industry

25th July 2019
Anna Flockett

This summer has presented the UK with the hottest and driest summer since 1976, a year well remembered for melting tarmac and long, hot summer’s days. So as we head into a record day for temperatures the Institution of Mechanical Engineers has looked at the impact of heatwaves and flooding on the UK’s water industry and released a report.

The UK experienced average temperatures in June of 19.9ºC, the same as in 1976. When this is combined with June being one of the top five driest Junes on record, and with the dry, hot weather having continued throughout July and set to carry on, concern about how the UK can manage ever-decreasing water availability is increasing.

The report “Water: Drought and Flood” sees the following impact of climate change for the UK water industry:

  • Higher water bills for consumers as the costs rise for treating and managing water supplies.
  • As summers become longer and hotter, water treatment plants will be required to run at peak flow rates for longer, raising maintenance and running costs as well as energy consumption.
  • The increased water flow will also require more chemicals to clean the water faster at the plants.
  • Water companies will need to increase the pace of pipework replacement significantly to reduce leakage, which will be expensive but is now becoming essential.
  • To combat flooding, particularly after long periods of dry, hot weather, greater investment will be required in drainage systems in urban areas including more sustainable options such parkland, ponds and ditches.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers recommends:

  • All major UK cities to publish research on what their infrastructure needs will be in relation to water. Water is a limited resource – infrastructure for new-build homes and businesses should be designed and developed with increased extreme weather in mind. This should include sustainable urban drainage and grey water recycling in new-build properties, reducing the burden on water treatment works in the summer months and helping to manage extreme rainfall events.
  • UK Government should run a public awareness campaign on the value of water and consequences of our changing climate. This could include actions that householders and businesses need to take to build resilience into their properties, in order to mitigate the impacts caused by poor drainage when periods of dry weather end this year, and in future years.
  • The water industry, with the support of Water UK and the National Infrastructure Committee, creates a forum of water-intensive industries. The forum should produce a water infrastructure sustainability plan for UK industry that combines drought and flood. It is crucial that supply exceeds demand not just by ever increasing production, but instead by mitigating use in a similar way to the electricity grid which has clients on interruptible contracts.

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