London, UK,

It may be raining but water is scarce

Sandra Ryan, Principal Consultant

Managing water in the UK is a juggling act. Devastating floods plunging communities underwater grab our attention. It seems strange, but at the same time we must prepare against the chronic water supply shortages that a changing climate and a growing population threaten. While flooding hits the front pages, on average London is as dry as some parts of Texas and other parts of northern Europe are not much better.

Work is going on behind the scenes to secure water supply in the long-term. Amec Foster Wheeler recently responded to the Environment Agency’s proposed changes to its draft Water Resource Planning Guideline. That document sets out how water companies are required to develop long-term plans. As water resource planners we commented on how well the new guidance will support water companies to prepare robust plans at a time when so many priorities are changing and different approaches are up for grabs.

  • Climatic shifts means that traditional water resource and supply systems are operating less effectively. We need to re-think our approach and assess the value of different types of solutions. We believe that as part of helping cities become more resilient, they need flexibility to respond to abrupt problems from attacks to flooding of water supply infrastructure.
  • While extreme flooding is becoming more frequent, more intense dry periods and extreme droughts are also expected. Water companies can use our recent report for the Environment Agency, Performance of Water Supply Systems during Extreme Drought, to test how much drought stress their supply systems could withstand.
  • The regulator’s (Ofwat) Resilience Task Force has suggested what we have been advocating: linking long-term water resource planning with wastewater asset planning, wider integrated water management, managing flood risk, drought protection and water quality. Fully integrated planning, as we offer, has many benefits in outcomes and efficiencies.
  • Least-cost planning may no longer be the best way to manage complex systems. But the new guideline remains rooted in assumptions that companies continue to plan in a traditional way; focusing on forecasting to narrow the scope, rather than solutions that offer flexibility to respond to inevitable future uncertainties.

We look forward to helping our clients get the benefits of this new flexibility. When water companies provide the rationale behind their choice of decision-making approach (e.g. least-cost planning, robust decision making, real options appraisal) it helps regulators and customers understand the underlying factors driving investment decisions – and ultimately customer bills.


Meet the blogger

Sandra RyanSandra is a Principal Consultant and has been a water resource planner for 15 years, investigating the best ways to make best use out of limited water resources, a fascination triggered by the reality of major water resource investment and its impact on people and the environment. She now uses her experience to challenge traditional thinking in the context of evolving problems, new players, and changing priorities.

Sandra holds a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Geography, a Master of Science in Physical Geography (Water Resources) from the University of Hull, UK, with a scholarship at the University of Istanbul through Rotary International. Based in Bristol in the UK she tweets her own views about all things watery @NoNewWater.