Like many rivers across the UK, abstraction (taking water out of rivers for drinking and other uses) is damaging the environment of the River Dee. Ensuring there is enough water for abstraction during the summer months results in an unnatural flow regime (more information can be found in our report here). More directly, the Aldford Brook, a tributary of the Dee in Cheshire, suffers from low flows in the summer caused by the abstraction of groundwater. The demand for water is therefore having a clear and direct negative impact on the ecology of the River Dee.
Water companies are the River Dee’s largest abstractors, particularly the United Utilities abstraction from Huntington which supplies 2 million homes. All water companies in England and Wales are currently consulting on their Water Resources Management Plans. These government-mandated plans identify any need for additional drinking water supplies and set targets for demand reduction over the next 25 years. These plans are therefore critical to ensuring drinking water and environmental benefits are secured in the face of population growth and climate change.
At Welsh Dee Trust we want to see the overall levels of abstraction from the River Dee reduced, leaving more water in the river to benefit its ecology. To accomplish this, a reduction in demand is needed, particularly when climate change, population increase, and water transfers out of the region are considered. Creating new sources of water elsewhere will provide additional water, but these are likely to have an environmental impact, swapping environmental damage in one place for damage in another. Preference therefore should always be on reducing demand.
The water resources management plans of United Utilities, Hafren Dyfrdwy, Severn Trent and the umbrella organisation Water Resources West set out various solutions for reducing demand with associated targets. In general, at Welsh Dee Trust we would like water companies to go further and faster on these demand reduction targets.
Currently, 20% of drinking water abstracted is lost to leakage (Dabell 2018). Water Resources West and the associated water companies all set a target to reduce leakage by half by 2050. For United Utilities, Severn Trent and Hafren Dyfrdwy, this includes a reduction of 15% by 2025. Subsequent plans then see the overall rate of leakage repair slow down to reach the 50% target. At Welsh Dee Trust we would like water companies to at least maintain the current rate of reduction (15% reduction every 5 years) until 2050. This will ultimately lead to a reduction of leakage by 90% by 2050 from 2019 levels.
Non-domestic customer usage
Non-domestic customers of water companies are some of the largest single users and individual companies making efficiency benefits here can greatly improve demand reduction. At Welsh Dee Trust we would like to see more specific targets and plans for reducing non-domestic use of water, including funding from water companies to support businesses to become more efficient.
Per capita consumption
On average an individual in the UK uses 142 litres per day. At Welsh Dee Trust we would like to see water companies set a target to reduce per capita use to 110 litres a day.
The most effective tool for reducing demand is the installation of smart meters within homes, which help reduce total usage as well as help identify leakages. At Welsh Dee Trust we would like to see water companies expand their initiatives for using smart meters. To support this, we would also like to see more supportive legislation from governments. Smart meters alongside education should be the primary processes used to reduce per capita use as these are the most effective interventions.
River Severn to River Thames transfer scheme
At Welsh Dee Trust, we are concerned that the proposed plan to transfer water from the Severn into the Thames will increase demand on water abstractions in the region, including the River Dee. We believe any surplus water from the region should be used to reduce the damage being caused by current abstractions.
Overall, at Welsh Dee Trust, we see reducing demand as the most important way of reducing the impact abstraction is having on the River Dee. Our replies to the various water resources management plans all ask for water companies to go further and faster on targets to reduce demand, particularly on reducing leakage, supporting non-domestic customers, and reducing per capita usage via smart meters and education. We hope these recommendations are taken onboard and put into the final plans.
If you are interested in the ecology of the River Dee, we would recommend replying to the consultations asking for similar requests. The consultations can be found here: