Water neutrality is an ambitious concept which aims to ensure there is enough water to support new development without requiring additional water resources.
The definition used by us and the Government is that the total water use after a development does not exceed the total water use before development.
Why do we need water neutrality
Water is a precious resource that is under increased pressure from climate change and population growth. By 2050, our population could increase by as much as 20 million and climate change could reduce the amount of water available. Further development must be sustainable, and water neutrality can help to achieve this in areas where water resources are under pressure and significant development is planned.
How we can move towards water neutrality
We published a major report with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Communities and Local Government (CLG) in 2007 which showed it is possible to move towards water neutrality in the Thames Gateway. The Gateway is a major growth area that will help deliver the Government's aims to build more homes. Water resources are very stretched. However, the scale of development in the Gateway also presents an opportunity to make the area an exemplar for sustainable development.
Water neutrality is achievable through a combination of measures:
- increasing the level of metering;
- introducing variable tariffs;
- improving water efficiency of new housing;
- retrofitting existing homes with water efficient options;
- reducing demand from non-households.
What are the benefits
In October 2009, we published a new study which demonstrates that water neutrality provides an overall economic as well as environmental benefit to society.
Our analysis shows that for every £1 invested in water neutrality, benefits of about £1.40 would be realised. This benefit depends principally on using less water and energy in homes and businesses through more efficient use of water, particularly hot water use. From an environmental perspective, everyone gains from reduced CO2 emissions resulting from domestic energy savings and abstracting less water in a water-stressed area helping to protect water quality and biodiversity.
In two further reports we have explored the potential funding strategies for water neutrality and a refinement of the criteria considered in achieving water neutrality.
Our work shows the benefits which water neutrality could bring. We now want to see the trialling of water neutrality in practice in areas like the Thames Gateway to demonstrate what can be achieved and disseminate best practice approaches to others.