Freshwater Availability and Use in the UK (2011)

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The study identifies those industrial and commercial sectors and regions of the UK where water use is high, where there is scope for significant reductions in water use and where environmental pressures on water use are greatest. This study sought to complete a water mass balance for each region and sector in order that non-household sectors that are major consumers of water could be identified. All types of observations through CAMS (Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies), WEI (Water Exploitation Index) and other water stress indicators show that much of south-east England and East Anglia is currently, and will continue to be the most water-stressed area of the UK, although there are a number of very localised areas elsewhere which are already over-abstracted. These have been identified as short term priority locations.

Executive summary

1. This work was commissioned to provide WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) and other stakeholders with an overview of the freshwater conservation agenda in the United Kingdom (UK). A significant element of this is an understanding of where, when and how freshwater is used across industry and commerce –this includes where water is removed from the environment and how this water is returned to the environment.

2. Although there are already a number of data sources on commercial and industrial water use in the UK, including that gathered by the Environment Agency (EA), Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and water utilities, none provides the complete picture. This study draws together available evidence relating to non-household water use.

3. The study identifies those industrial and commercial sectors and regions of the UK where water use is high, where there is scope for significant reductions in water use and where environmental pressures on water use are greatest. The specific objectives of the study undertaken were to:

  •   Identify and collate data on industrial and commercial water use in the UK, broken down by SIC sector, to include abstraction, mains water use and water put back into the system through rivers, mains, drains etc.
  •   Calculate how much water is used by each commercial and industrial sector, to gain an understanding of how much each sector can contribute to reducing water use.
  •   Identify where there are gaps in knowledge on industrial and commercial water use, and make recommendations on how they may be filled.
  •   Present available water consumption data by UK region and nation and relate these findings to existing information on current and predicted freshwater scarcity.
  •   Identify where there are gaps in knowledge on freshwater scarcity and make recommendations on how they may be filled.
  •   Give a clear understanding, based on the analysis undertaken, of where activities should be focussed to reduce industrial and commercial water use.

4. A literature review on the subject of water scarcity across the UK was conducted to allow conclusions to be drawn on the basis of areas where pressure on water resources is highest. Irrespective of the indicator used to describe water stress, research indicates that action should focus initially on the Thames, Southern and Anglian EA regions. All types of observations through CAMS (Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies), WEI (Water Exploitation Index) and other water stress indicators show that much of south-east England and East Anglia is currently, and will continue to be the most water-stressed area of the UK, although there are a number of very localised areas elsewhere which are already over-abstracted. These have been identified as short term priority locations.

5. This study sought to complete a water mass balance for each region and sector in order that non-household sectors that are major consumers of water could be identified. A water use mass balance requires the information listed in Table 1. Sources of data which were available for analysis for this project at an industrial sector level, and the activities they cover are shown in bold type. It was not possible to get this level of data breakdown for all nations and/or regions of the UK.