England could face water shortages in just 25 years due to climate change if radical shifts in consumption and infrastructure aren’t immediately implemented.
That’s according to the chief executive of the country’s Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, who described one of the most looming environmental consequences of our time at the Waterwise conference in London on Tuesday, reported the Guardian.
“Around 25 years from now, where those [demand and supply] lines cross is known by some as the ‘jaws of death’—the point at which we will not have enough water to supply our needs, unless we take action to change things,” Bevan told the Guardian.
Bevan, who was appointed to lead the agency in 2015, cited population growth and failing infrastructure, such as leaky pipes, as the main reasons for the potential crisis.
“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.
Bevan recommended cuts to water consumption by as much as one third, as well as leaks from water pipes by 50 percent, and suggested changes such as more water metering and the building of “mega-reservoirs,” which the Guardian described as controversial and likely to be met by local opposition.
Climate change is predicted to usher in UK summers that are roughly 5 degrees Celsius warmer by 2070—should emissions continue the increase—according to a 2018 report by the UK Met Officer. It also projected drier conditions within this century, with summer rainfall potentially dropping 47 percent by 2070.
More than a quarter of the country’s groundwater sources and 18 percent of surface water resources were “extracted beyond a sustainable level in 2017,” reported NBC News, describing a 2018 study by the Environment Agency that investigated the UK’s water usage. The report called current levels of extraction “unsustainable,” noting that three billion liters of water are lost through leakage each day. More than a third of freshwater extraction, it added, goes toward electricity supply and other industries.
Bevan estimated that the average person in the UK consumes 140 liters of water per day, and by making tweaks such as shorter showers or installing low-flush toilets, that number can drop to 100 liters.
Still, climate change is the “existential threat” at play, and modifications to one’s personal routine are no match for systemic, institutional shifts.
“We can choose to ignore this problem,” Bevan said. “Or we can choose to tackle it.”