Rainfall warning prompts call for water security task force

The UK needs a new water strategy in light of evidence that ‘extreme’ rainfall may be increasing, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

The Met Office yesterday issued a heavily caveated warning that preliminary research suggested more rain was falling in the UK compared with 50 years ago and that it may be falling in more intense bursts, possibly as a result of increasing global temperatures.

In response, ICE issued a statement by its water expert Michael Norton, who is also director of municipal water at engineering consultancy AMEC, calling for the creation of a UK water security task force and new water storage facilities that go beyond traditional reservoirs.

‘Extreme rainfall naturally diverts the focus away from drought; however, there is actually no better time to be discussing how we can manage our water resources more effectively than when we have water in excess,’ he said.

‘Without a strategy, we will continue to swing from flooding to drought and climate change will only exacerbate the situation.’

He added: ‘Developing new storage facilities across the country to harvest more rainfall must form part of this strategy — rainfall is becoming more varied in terms of time and place and we can no longer rely on large reservoirs in only a few locations.

‘New facilities come at a cost, however, and water companies should be incentivised and encouraged to collaborate in order to share the cost and also ensure they are developed for a range of uses such as flood control, agriculture and public water supply.’

Norton argued that such a strategy would require regulators, water companies, farmers and businesses to come together to manage water more effectively.

‘To set this in motion, UK governments should create a UK water security task force, providing leadership and ultimately delivering a strategy that is coherent and integrated, and that achieves long-term water security.’

The Met Office’s research found that 2012 was the wettest year on record for England and the second wettest for the UK as a whole, falling 6.6mm short of the 2000 record.

An analysis of days with rainfall so heavy they should only occur every 100 days, according to climate averages, suggests these ‘extreme’ rainfall days may have become more frequent since 1960.

Prof Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s chief scientist, said in a statement: ‘The trend towards more extreme rainfall events is one we are seeing around the world in countries such as India and China, and now potentially here in the UK. Much more research is needed to understand more about the causes and potential implications.

‘It’s essential we look at how this may affect our rainfall patterns going forward over the next decade and beyond, so we can advise on the frequency of extreme weather in the future and the potential for more surface and river flooding. This will help inform decision making about the need for future resilience both here in the UK and globally.’