Britain must urgently change its approach towards water management if it wants to avoid droughts becoming an annual headache for industries including farming, say water experts.
Michael Norton, chairman of the water experts panel the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE), said more preventative measures were needed to address water scarcity before it reaches drought status.
A national water grid, which would link the wettest regions, such as Scotland and Wales, to the parched South, was impractical – both economically and environmentally – but also a major undertaking, he added.
Instead, more affordable “soft engineering” solutions, such as improving interconnections across water companies and encouraging better methods of winter water storage were priorities.
“Introducing demand management measures, improving interconnectivity between water companies and better and more imaginative methods of storing winter water (for summer use) would be a good start to safeguarding this precious resource for the future.”
Water storage did not necessarily have to be “big reservoirs that people have in their mind”.
But Mr Norton said the key was “taking advantage of the higher rainfall that we have during winter and devising a whole range of different storage options”.
The current water shortage crisis, which has prompted seven water companies to introduce hosepipe bans from 5 April, should not come as a surprise. It follows two winters of low rainfall, which has left reservoirs at record low levels.
“Improving interconnectivity between water companies and better and more imaginative methods of storing winter water would be a good start to safeguarding water.”
Mr Norton told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have known for some time that our water resources were going to become quite stressed, partly because of the population increase in south-east England, but also because of the impact of climate change right across the UK.”
Richard Aylard, sustainability director for Thames Water, said more emphasis should be placed on water conservation.
“We all need to recognise that the water coming out of our taps comes from our local river or from the aquifer that feeds that river,” he said.
“The less water we all use the less we need to take from the river.”
The Environment Agency’s Drought Prospects report, released on Tuesday (13 March), warned that water shortages could spread as far north as East Yorkshire and as far west as the Hampshire/Wiltshire border if dry weather continues this spring.