Water resources management – who is responsible?

Posted by on 22 September 2014

Thoughts from the Water Efficient Buildings Conference, Brighton, 2014

Reflecting back on the two day conference in sunny Brighton, there were a number of themes that were weaved throughout discussions. Being a Scot, the main theme was in fact my opinion on the independence referendum! But, putting that to one side, a recurring theme was responsibility– where should the responsibility for water and water efficiency lie?

One example is greywater and rainwater harvesting systems. Currently these systems need to be registered with the water company and include a mechanism to ensure that backwashing of contaminated water into the mains water system does not occur. But who should oversee the installation of these systems? The water companies, the Drinking Water Inspectorate or local authority planning departments?

How do we ensure that we are not sitting in a lecture theatre in 10 years’ time asking the same questions at a time when climate change has truly come to bare and our water infrastructure is buckling?

In my opinion, the answer lies in establishing that every individual and every organisation has some degree of responsibility.

Water companies should not be reward businesses for using lots of water through large volume water user tariffs and should encourage more frugal use. Equally, businesses and individuals should recognise their role in ensuring that there is enough water to go around in 5, 10, 50 and 100 years’ time.

Innovate & educate

Innovation and education will be key to changing perceptions and solving this responsibility dilemma.

I and a small team within Ricardo Energy & Environment carried out work for United Kingdom Water Industry Research (UKWIR) entitled ‘Impact of Drought Restrictions’. This looked at the impacts of the Temporary Use Ban water restrictions implemented in the summer of 2012 and identified that 16 – 24 year olds did not appear engaged with the water efficiency agenda and also did not see the drought as being severe despite water levels being at a critical level.

It’s important that we reach out to this generation in a more concerted manner, utilising more effective and innovative education approaches in order to promote greater water efficiency in the future.


The concept of gamification, outlined by Jacob Tompkins of Waterwise at the conference, may help provide such an approach. Gamification could be used to drip feed educational elements within an engaging platform that is similar to a game, evoking competition through leaderboards and loyalty points for example.

This type of engagement is already heavily interlinked with social media including Facebook and Twitter, and could be used to target a range of demographics, including the 16 – 24 year olds highlighted earlier. The proposed increase in domestic metering, and the roll-out of smart metering could also provide the data to allow consumers to “compete” in real time.

In a domestic environment, reward points could be gained for meeting water consumption targets relative to number of occupants. For businesses, low volume water user tariffs could be used to incentivise water consumption below a set benchmark (based on industry sector for example).

Thinking more long term, it may be that smart metering will go down to a micro-component level allowing rewards to be provided for not overfilling the kettle, or leaving the tap running while you are brushing your teeth! The possibilities in a data-centric society are endless.

In addition, education and information could be delivered in App form. For example, Melbourne Water in Australia already has an App that delivers real time information on Dam levels to consumers. This could be adapted for the UK informing on reservoir levels (although some investment in additional monitoring will be required) and highlighting the likelihood of drought, or restrictions on use, like those seen in the summer of 2012.

To ensure that we start to see a serious reduction in water use per capita, there is a need to think innovatively and for all stakeholders to recognise their responsibilities including individuals. There are some fantastic opportunities to use advances in technology and smart metering in order to start engaging a wider demographic and increase water efficiency.

Discussion questions

  • • Who do you think should be responsible for water resources management?
  • • How can we engage 16 – 24 year olds to understand the implications of climate change, flooding, drought and water efficiency?
  • • How can we use the concept of “gamification” to engage domestic and non-domestic consumers going forward to ensure continued water for all in the UK?

You can download my presentation from the Water Efficient Building Conference on ‘Impact of Drought Restrictions’ here. For more information on the water resources services available from Ricardo Energy & Environment please click here.

Richard Malloy


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