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England Could Run Out of Fresh Water in 25 Years

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The head of England's Environment Agency has urged people to stop watering their lawns as a climate-induced water shortage looms. Pexels

England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.


In a speech at the Waterwise Conference in London, the agency's Chief Executive James Bevan explained that the twin pressures of climate change and population growth could cause England to run out of fresh water within 25 years. Bevan referred to the point at which demand would outstrip supply as the "jaws of death," NBC News reported.

"Self-evidently, avoiding something called the jaws of death is by and large the sensible thing to do. So how do we do that?" Bevan asked the crowd.

The first step, he said, was to understand what was happening. The UK's population is expected to grow from 67 to 75 million by 2050, he said, as CNN reported. At the same time, the water supply within rivers could fall from 50 to 80 percent by 2040, and more than half of summers would be hotter than in 2003. This isn't just a future problem. The Environment Agency has found that more than 25 percent of groundwater sources and 18 percent of surface water sources were used past a sustainable level in 2017, NBC reported.

The second step was to take concrete steps to both increase supply and decrease demand. Those included:

  1. Developing water sharing systems where regions with more stable supplies could help water-stressed regions
  2. Building new reservoirs and desalination plants
  3. Repairing leaks in existing systems
  4. Instilling stricter water-usage rules for industry
  5. Creating incentives for water-efficient household products like toilets and dishwashers

Bevan also called for a change in behavior. In the UK, the average person uses 37 gallons of water per day, while in Denmark, the average person only uses 21. Bevan wants to get average consumption down to 26 gallons a day, and maintained it is possible if people do things like take shorter showers or refrain from watering their lawns.

"We need water wastage to be as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby or throwing your plastic bags into the sea," he said.


New reservoirs could be controversial, BBC Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin noted. Local residents have been protesting one in Oxfordshire since the 1990s and have said they would fight on, insisting that the water companies are exaggerating population growth and that reservoirs are not a good solution. New pipes to transfer water to the thirsty Southeast of the country could take years to plan and also harm wildlife.

Of course, plants and animals, especially fish, are also threatened by the water shortage as their habitat dries up, NBC reported.

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