My Lords, plentiful water is vital for securing reliable drinking water supplies, for growing food, for energy production and other industry, and to sustain biodiversity. Securing a sufficient supply of water in the future will be more challenging as pressure from a growing population and climate change impact on us. We will also have to reduce current levels of abstraction from some sources to protect the environment.
The National Policy Statement for Water Resources Infrastructure forms part of a wider framework that the Government have established to deliver two of the goals of the 25-year environment plan: clean and plentiful water and reducing the risk from natural hazards such as drought. The purpose of the national policy statement is to summarise government policy on nationally significant water resource infrastructure in England, including setting out the need for that infrastructure.
The national policy statement draws on a number of reports looking ahead to 2050 to quantify the expected deficit in terms of water available for supply. The most recent was published last year by the National Infrastructure Commission, which was established to provide independent expert advice to government on the nation’s future infrastructure needs. It suggests that immediate action is needed to close a gap of 3.3 billion litres per day to maintain current levels of resilience. This compares to the 15 billion litres per day currently put into the public supply. We need to tackle this challenge on two fronts, reducing demand and increasing supply through a twin-track approach.
In the decade or so after privatisation, the water industry took action to reduce leaks, and levels today are down by one-third compared to 1994. However, in recent years progress has stalled and still around one-fifth of the supply is lost—around 3 billion litres per day. The National Infrastructure Commission calculates that some 1.4 billion litres per day could be saved by halving leaks by 2050. Furthermore, the Secretary of State has made it clear that a step change to reduce leaks is needed and that the industry should deliver the commission’s recommendation. For the next round of business plans, the industry has committed to an average 16% reduction by 2025; a good first step towards the 2050 target. This long-term goal is stretching, but we must be ambitious, given the challenge that we face.
We must also act to reduce our demand for water. More efficient appliances can help, but it is also about how we behave and how we value water. The water companies can help by supporting their customers to reduce the amount they use each day and they have committed to do this in their draft business plans. Levels of consumption have reduced from around 150 litres per person per day in 1999 to around 140 litres per person per day now. Actions such as revising building standards in 2015 to allow local authorities to set a higher efficiency target of 110 litres per person per day compared to the normal 125 litres per person per day for new developments, will help progress. We estimate that this standard has been adopted by around 25% of local authorities. It means that people living in new developments meeting this standard use around 30 litres per day less than those living in existing housing stock. However, I am sure we all agree that more needs to be done.
In the coming weeks we plan to launch a call for evidence on setting an ambitious target for per capita consumption. This will establish a target against which we can measure the progress of the Government and the water industry. Alongside the call for evidence, we will consult on the policy options required to reach our consumption target, such as labels providing information on the efficiency of water-using products, improving building standards and the future role of metering. We know that metering can be an important part of changing behaviour. Customers with a meter use on average 33 litres less each day than those without. The level of metering varies between companies but now stands at around 50% nationally. Action set out in draft water resource management plans would increase this to 83% by 2045. So there is much more we can do to reduce demand.
However, even with considerable ambition, fixing leaks and reducing the amount each of us consumes, there is more we must do. The gap remaining by 2050 after action to reduce demand will be around 1 billion litres per day. We also therefore need to focus on providing additional supplies. This means new or upgraded infrastructure that might transfer water across a company’s area or between companies. It might mean a new reservoir, or it could come from other solutions such as desalination or the treatment and reuse of sewage effluent. Each of these options has pros and cons. There are choices to be made as to the best balance of different infrastructure types.