Julie James, Minister for Climate Change
Climate change means that over the next 20 years Wales faces wetter winters, hotter drier summers, rising sea levels, and more frequent and intense extreme weather events. Winter rainfall has increased in Wales in recent decades, and the Met Office predicts that it will increase further as a result of global warming. In contrast, between March and September of 2022, Wales received just 64% of the long-term average rainfall for this period, and we experienced the driest seven-month period in 150 years and eighth warmest summer since 1884.
Prolonged dry weather and drought is becoming more common in Wales, and regional drought conditions prevailed in the summers of 2018 and 2020. Last year, the dry weather and high temperatures placed significant pressures on our ecosystems and habitats, water supplies, and the agriculture sector, leading to the first official drought to be declared in Wales since 2005-06.
The Climate Change Committee’s latest UK Climate Risk Independent Assessment, emphasises the risks of reduced summer rainfall to maintaining sufficient water supplies. The report highlights significant risks to water infrastructure such as reservoirs, dams, pipelines, and treatment plants also, stemming from the increased risk of flooding and subsidence.
Tackling the climate and nature emergency challenges can only be achieved effectively by adopting a “Team Wales” approach, where government, regulators, and every sector work together to encourage and implement innovative and joined-up approaches that deliver positive outcomes for the environment, our communities and the economy. The Welsh Government has committed to delivering nature-based flood management in all major river catchments and continues to work closely with Natural Resources Wales (NRW), water companies, local authorities and other regulators and partners on drought preparedness across Wales.
If future generations are to continue to benefit from Wales’ rich and diverse natural resources, we all need to think differently about our water use.
Water efficiency is linked intrinsically with our ambition for the water sector. By reducing water use and using only that which we need, we will reduce the energy used for water supply and wastewater treatment, thus helping to reduce Wales’ carbon footprint while supporting efforts to adapt to increasing pressures on water resources arising from climate impacts. At a time when many are struggling to pay their bills, reducing water consumption can also help households reduce their bills. Wales’ water companies, Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water (DCWW) and Hafren Dyfrdwy (HD), offer water saving tips and advice to customers on their websites. They can also advise on how a water meter might help reduce bills. This summer there will be water saving campaigns on social media to encourage people to use water sensibly and help protect this precious resource.
Water companies have set out in their Water Resource Management Plans (DCWW and HD) how they will maintain the balance between supply and demand by reducing leakage, decreasing water consumption and finding new ways of being resilient.
This week is Water Saving Week, and I am encouraging everyone to reflect on your water use and to think about ways in which you can help save water. Making small adjustments can make a big difference. For instance, reducing shower time by a minute, or fitting a water efficient shower head can save thousands of litres of water a year, and reduce energy bills. Waterwise’s website provides details on how to get involved in Water Saving Week and on how we can use water more wisely.
Last summer, we experienced a prolonged dry period and higher than average temperatures. Over the next three months, the Met Office’s long-term outlook indicates that we are more likely to experience near average temperatures. And while confidence and uncertainty increase with long-term outlooks, the Met Office indicate a 10% chance of a drier than average period.
The majority of river flows are normal across Wales currently, and NRW’s latest assessments indicate that groundwater sites are recharging, with many river catchments meeting expected levels. Despite a particularly dry February this year, what followed was the wettest March in forty years, with Wales experiencing double the long-term average of rain. Similarly, reservoirs, which depend on rain to refill over the cooler months, are now within normal operating levels for this time of year. DCWW has reported that all reservoirs are more than 99% full, while HD’s storage levels are at 78% capacity and continue to refill following maintenance work earlier this year.
While this latest position is reassuring, it is important we take a proactive approach to maintaining resilient water resources.
The Welsh Government’s Drought Liaison Group, which brings together all critical stakeholders in Wales was stood up in March and continues to meet to regularly to share situational updates, inform contingency planning and agree actions to effectively manage water supplies and protect the environment should conditions risk impacting our natural environment or water resources. We will continue to share information and, where necessary, coordinate with partners in England via the UK National Drought Group also.
NRW, DCWW and HD have up to date drought plans which provide a flexible framework for dealing with different drought events in Wales and the Welsh Government will support them in enacting these plans where necessary.
It took prolonged, significant rainfall to fully replenish rivers, reservoirs, and groundwater levels last winter, so I urge the public and businesses to be mindful of the pressures on water resources and continue to use water wisely.
Currently, the drought status in Wales is normal and water resources are within expected ranges for the time of year, with no significant concerns currently in relation to prolonged dry weather or drought impacts to water supply, the environment, the agriculture sector, or water users across Wales. However, as we have seen all too often in the past, the vagaries of the weather and climate impacts mean that conditions can change rapidly.
We all have a responsibility to use water sensibly and sustainably. We will continue to work with our partners and communities to better ensure the use of water has the interests of current and future generations at its heart.
I encourage everyone to be considerate in their water usage, to be ‘water aware’ and protect one of our most valuable natural resources.
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