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Drought and Deluge - two sides of the same coin

After the summer we've had, there's no denying how short our collective memories are when it comes to the weather. The season began with the spectre of widespread and long-term water shortages and melted away in torrential rain and floods.


As headlines moved from hosepipe ban to devastating deluge, did the water industry miss an opportunity to emphasise that drought and flooding are two sides of the same water management coin?


I am fortunate to have worked in both Wastewater and Stormwater during my time with Hydro International, and like many in our business, I’m acutely aware of how the two disciplines – often managed separately – are closely interrelated.   Not just, I must stress, in terms of dealing with issues of the quantity of water in the environment, but equally important its quality.


During the summer, the Government came under fire from industry groups, as well as its own parliamentary scrutiny committees, for its inertia in tackling both water resource and flood risk management issues through the Water White Paper and the implementation of the Flood and Water Management Act.


The Committee on Climate Change warned that four times as many properties in England could be at risk of flooding in the next twenty years without further steps to prepare for climate change.


The Institution of Civil Engineers in its State of the Nation report demanded more decisive action to tackle water security, whilst suggesting that greater public recycling and reuse might be encouraged if water was given a higher value. 


The parliamentary Efra committee criticised the Government for its lack of urgency in tackling both water abstraction regimes, and in implementing Sustainable Drainage Systems, particularly retrofitting measures that could serve to bridge the gap between water shortage and surface water flooding. 


Global warming will bring extremes of drought and flooding.  Future-proofing our water infrastructure involves radically reducing the wasteful and costly conveyance of water from our roofs and roads to the wastewater treatment works.   Yet we mark time on this, whilst debating the feasibility of long-distance transfer of treated potable supplies.


It’s high time we began to pay more than lip service to the concept of a truly joined-up approach to water management.


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