Resource and water scarcity – future proofing the City of London

Posted by Stuart Ballinger, Business Area Manager on 7 July 2015

Last week I attend the Worshipful Company of Water Conservators (WCWC) Annual Lecture, which was hosted in partnership with Ricardo Energy & Environment, in the fabulous Octagon Room at Queen Mary’s University in London. The focus of the evening’s event was ‘Resource and Water Scarcity – Future Proofing the City of London’.

Despite it being one of the hottest days of the year there was a great turn out with representatives from the private sector, water companies, industry regulators, academia and other Livery Companies such as the Worshipful Company of Fuellers’ and Builders Merchants’ and guests were treated to a first class line up of speakers, all more than qualified in the subject matter.

Two questions arose several times through the evening as summarised below; are we doing enough to address and mitigate future risks, and are we acting fast enough?

Risks and opportunities

Mark Lane, Director of the newly established UK Water Partnership kicked off the presentations with an overview of the challenges that increasing population and climate change will exert on London and London’s water in the future – highlighting a 37% increase in Greater London’s population and a 26% deficit in water supply by 2050. In addition to this he outlined how more frequent periods of sudden intense rainfall and rising sea levels will also increase the risk of flooding in the future.

These challenges will provide opportunities for the UK water sector supply chain as it is clear that new technologies and innovative solutions will be central to tackling the issues faced by the water sector in London. From devolved water treatment systems, greywater and waterless technologies through to whole scale systems integration, smart metering and the internet of things. But this also came with a warning that the reliance on new technologies will increase the City of London’s vulnerability to cyber and terrorist threats in the future….a provocation that shouldn’t be ignored.

Managing the future of London’s water supply

Martin Baggs, CEO Thames Water was in great form, taking a moment at the start of his slot to challenge the audience on the value and quality of Thames’ tap water. Indeed, at only £1 to supply around 600 litres to each household every day and then to remove the wastewater, who could argue with him? But with the forecast of warmer wetter winters and hotter drier summers surely something needs to change? Can we really afford to continue using 150 litres per person each and every day?

Projections for the Thames river basin in 2080 suggest that there will be no net increase or decrease in annual rainfall. But how can we square this with the predicted increase in population across the region? Surely we need to be more efficient – reduce leakage, reduce demand and increase customer metering? However, these demand management actions appear only to be short and medium term options with Martin outlining the need for new resources (e.g. large transfer schemes, new reservoirs or reuse of wastewater) to supply the region and to help us avoid the most serious (level 4) restrictions on water use in the future. He also called for the ‘big’ investment decisions to be made much more quickly as the potential financial impact on the City of a level 4 drought restriction could be as high as £330 million per day. This makes the case for a new reservoir currently being planned in South Oxfordshire (at £1.3 billion) quite compelling. So why are we taking the risk?

While paying tribute to the great achievements of the water sector, Sarah Mukherjee, Director of Environment at Water UK, provoked further thought as to whether we were already ‘drinking at the last chance salon’? Again picking up on the theme that more storage is required Sarah held up Abberton Reservoir in Essex, as a shining example of what can be achieved without the need to ‘pour more concrete’.

Resource risk and the circular economy

Finally Tim Curtis, Director Ricardo Energy & Environment wrapped up the evening by providing a whistle-stop tour of some of the wider resource risks for London including how price volatility, geo-political issues and resource depletion could impact the city. Tim highlighted the mega trends, such as population growth, urbanisation and increasing wealth, that are currently shaping cities across the globe and introduced how London could be at the forefront in driving the circular economy agenda that would see new business models that ‘might work better than business as usual’.

What’s next for London?

This event shows that it is clear that we have a good understanding of the risks and opportunities facing the City of London in the future. But raises the questions are we doing enough to address and mitigate these at present and are we acting fast enough? Probably not. We need to step up action and embrace the circular economy agenda and if new resources are required then they should be like Abberton for all to enjoy.

This was the first event that Ricardo Energy & Environment has organised in partnership with the WCWC after its recent corporate membership of the Livery. We’d like to thank Roger North for presiding over the evening’s proceedings and all the speakers for their excellent talks. It is through collaborative working that we will solve the risks that London, and other global cities, may face in the future.

For examples of how Ricardo Energy & Environment are working with its customers to address and mitigate some of these challenges click here.






Twitter: Dr Stuart Ballinger

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