In the latest set of natural capital accounts for the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has described current levels of water abstraction are unsustainable in some regions – as abstraction in England continues to rise.

The amount of water being abstracted for public water supply declined by 12%, to 6,443 million cubic metres, from 2005 to 2014. The possible reason for this is attributed to the Water Act 2003, calling for a more efficient and sustainable use of water, as well as the installation of water meters.

However, since 2014, water abstraction for public water supply has once again started to increase, rising to 6,697 million cubic metres in 2017. This was driven by increasing water abstraction in England, while water abstraction in Scotland and Wales declined.

The accounts also show that while the annual value of water abstraction more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, to £3,513 million, the annual value of water abstraction provisioning in 2017 decreased to £2.54 billion.

Currently monetary estimates are derived from information about economic activity relating to the collection, treatment and supply of water.

The Office for National Statistics is currently exploring alternative methods used to value water provisioning services, with the aim of looking at the short-term cost and certainty, and long-term sustainability of the UK’s water supply. The intention is to capture the impact of the changing demand for water, and of climate change on the UK water supply by reporting on:

  • current and projected demand and water abstraction levels
  • weather forecasts and costs of ecologically excessive abstraction
  • water movements by truck
  • restrictions on supply

The ONS says that demand for water is forecast to continue to increase due to population growth in England and climate change.

However, it warns that current levels of water abstraction are already unsustainable in certain regions, creating pressure on water resources. In addition, the effects of climate change are predicted to lead to increasing winter rainfall and reducing summer rainfall, resulting in floods in the winter and droughts in the summer.

The accounts, produced in partnership with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), cover the following 13 categories of UK ecosystem services and set out estimates of the quantity and value of services being supplied by UK natural capital.

In 2016, with the addition of new services, the partial asset value of UK natural capital was estimated to be nearing £1 trillion (£951 billion). In 2016, living within 500 metres of green and blue space was estimated to be worth £78 billion to UK homes.

Click here to access the Natural Capital Accounts 2019

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