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Call to put water efficiency at the centre of climate crisis action

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An urgent call to action has been raised to get the country back on track reducing demand for water across England, not only to tackle the growing national water deficit (around four billion litres of water a day by 2050), but also to support net zero ambitions.

In a letter published today (Thursday 9 December) the independent Chair of the Senior Water Demand Reduction Group, Nicci Russell, has called on Government, regulators and water companies to act now and make changes that will ensure enough water is available in future for the environment, people and businesses. Nicci is Managing Director of water efficiency campaigning organisation Waterwise.

Nicci said: Water consumption in homes has increased by over 60% since the 1960s. Despite efforts to reverse this trend and to reduce demand we haven’t yet seen significant reductions – even in the few years before Covid-19, household consumption had only plateaued, and during the pandemic household demand has risen to levels not seen for nearly 20 years.

‘While there’s ongoing uncertainty about the pandemic, and whether the shift in water use from the workplace to homes will continue, what is certain is that there is an urgent need to reduce demand for water.

‘I’ve written the letter in my role as independent Chair of the Senior Water Demand Reduction Group and not on behalf of it – this independence enables me to draw on discussions in the group, while expanding ambition.’

A key area of focus recommended in the letter to policymakers is to centre water efficiency in the climate crisis – net zero and adaptation.

After space heating, heating water for taps and showers is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the home. The reduction in emissions from the water sector’s commitment to net zero operational emissions by 2030 could be doubled if accompanied by just a 10% reduction in hot water demand.

Nicci continued: ‘Water efficiency is essential in adaptation and climate justice right across England – making the increasingly scarce water we do have available go as far as possible, for the environment, homes and businesses.

‘The government’s net zero retrofit strategy for homes and other buildings offers the opportunity to achieve further, very cost-effective, reductions in both energy and water use by including water-saving measures (and certification) in such schemes.’

Around 5-6% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions are from household water supply and use: 90% of these water-related emissions are from how we use water in the home for heating and washing, and the rest is from water companies supplying water and dealing with wastewater (only this last element is included in the water industry’s net zero target).

Reducing water demand reduces carbon emissions by minimising both treatment and pumping and the need for new costly carbon concrete infrastructure. Similarly, decarbonisation will impact water use – high carbon emitting industries also use large amounts of water.

Alongside the call to centre water efficiency in the climate crisis, the letter sets out recommendations in a further three policy areas that Ministers, regulators and water companies should take forward – beyond existing commitments:

1. Ensure homes and buildings are water-efficient

2. Drive down water demand in businesses

3. Support a culture change in customer behaviour

The letter also recommends that the new water demand target under the Environment Act 2021 should be more ambitious than current plans.

Nicci said: ‘The Group welcomes the new statutory demand target. As independent Chair, I believe that, as with the Climate Change Act for carbon, the statutory water targets should drive ambition – and not simply reflect current practice. This is urgent, and an issue right across the country.’

The full letter has been shared on the Waterwise website here.

These water efficiency recommendations draw on existing evidence, including the draft regional water resource plans, the National Framework and research by and for members of the Senior Water Demand Reduction Group, as well as knowledge and conversations within and input from the SWDRG, and the Retailer Wholesaler Group’s Water Efficiency Action Plan.


Notes for Editors Contact

Nicci Russell can be contacted on

Senior Water Demand Reduction Group

Defra asked Nicci to take on the role as independent Chair of the newly-created Senior Water Demand Reduction Group (SWDRG) in 2020. The Group’s Terms of Reference set out its role as providing a forum for strategic water demand discussions with a unique combination of senior water sector representatives; providing evidence-based advice to government and regulators on the right level of ambition to set on demand management; advising on a method of measuring progress; and monitoring progress against the targets at a national and regional level, making recommendations to regulators, the UK Government and industry on actions needed to correct risks, barriers or under-delivery, or accelerate progress. Membership of the Group includes government, regulators, industry and NGOs in England. More information on the SWDRG can be found here.

Nicci Russell

As well as being the independent Chair of the Senior Water Demand Reduction Group, Nicci is Managing Director of Waterwise. She was formerly a Director at Ofwat, and Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In 2018 she was awarded Honorary Fellowship of the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM). She sits on Defra’s Expert Group on water targets for the Environment Bill and ACEVO’s Climate Crisis Working Group. She is a member of The Water Report’s Expert Forum. Nicci is Governor at a High School and a former Junior School Chair of Governors. She is a Trustee at national youth development charity Power2 and of a local educational charity.