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Adapting to climate change

While it is important that we reduce our carbon footprint to lessen the amount of warming for future generations, a certain amount of global warming seems inevitable due to historic greenhouse gas emissions.

This is likely to bring about more turbulent weather patterns, which will make it harder to achieve the customer and environmental standards expected of water companies. What is expected to happen in the south west of England?

Hotter, drier summers: The UK Climate Impact Programme (UKCIP09) predicts summers will be 10%-30% drier by 2050.

Wetter winters: UKCIP 09 predicts winters to be 10% to 20% wetter overall by 2050. Furthermore, winter rainfall is expected to fall in more intense bursts.

What could be the effects on us?

Changes to the weather due to climate change could pose a number of problems.

We expect the availability of water from existing sources to fall, with impacts on water quality. More stormy rainfall means that water is more likely to run off the land rather than seeping underground into the aquifers used for public water supply. This problem would be exacerbated by long dry spells.

Water quality in reservoirs could decline as sediment and contaminants wash into them with stormy weather.

Damage to pipework caused by soils drying out and shrinking could lead to more leakage.

The sewerage system is likely to come under greater pressure from more intense storms. The result could be more frequent sewer flooding and spills from combined sewer overflows.

Dry weather would mean that effluent from our sewage treatment works makes up a bigger proportion of rivers and streams. Hot weather could also lead to more frequent complaints about odour from sewage works. Drought could also lead to more sedimentation in our sewers.

Meanwhile, public demand for water continues to increase.

What are we doing?

We have not had a hosepipe ban or any other restrictions since 1976. This is a record we want to protect. However, it means continuing to maintain a balance between demand for water and the amount available for supply. We have cut leakage from our pipes by nearly one half over the last 10 years and we have an active programme of customer education on using water wisely.

We will need to continue in this way, as we don’t expect the situation to get any easier. We have an adaptation plan for climate change that sets out our approach and activities that will help us adapt and our 25 year water resources plan incorporates climate change projections. We will need to keep working closely with environmental and quality regulators, local authorities, large users and the media, so that we can cope with periods of shortage, manage demand and plan new water resource development as the need arises.

In terms of coping with storm water, we have changed the specifications of new sewers. By building to a larger size and investing in storage such as storm tanks, we are increasing the ability of sewerage to cope with the more frequent storms that we expect to see by the end of the 21st century.

However we do not believe that increasing surface runoff due to climate change can be economically contained in enclosed pipe systems. Instead, tackling surface water at source is the most effective approach. This can include encouraging slow absorption of surface water by using permeable hard surfaces, protecting natural and semi-natural features in flood plains, and retaining water in the upper parts of river catchments.

We will also press for changes to the planning systems, notably:

  • restrictions on laying impermeable surfaces
  • removal of the automatic right to connect surface water drainage to the sewerage system
  • clarification by Government of flooding legislation and the ownership of sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDs).



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