World Water Day 2020 | Water and Climate Change

It’s World Water Day on Sunday, and for this year’s theme the United Nations have selected Water and Climate Change – and how the two are inextricably linked.

At Wardell Armstrong we have found that this topic encompasses many of our service areas in addition to the work our water and flood risk assessment teams do.  Each day this week, we will ask key personnel from various sectors – what does water and climate change mean to them?

Monday 16th March 2020

Our first contribution comes from our Research Director,  Dr Chris Broadbent based in our London office.

What does water and climate change mean to you?
“In my career at Wardell Armstrong, I have been involved in a number of internationally significant projects, however it has been my involvement in the Faraday Battery Challenge and Li4UK Project that has the potential to have the greatest impact on the UK and help most with decarbonising the economy. With the UK Government bringing forward the ban on internal combustion engine powered cars from 2040 to 2035 the race in on to develop the means to source minerals such as lithium required for batteries. One of the UK locations where lithium is found is Cornwall within geothermal brines. Therefore, if we could recover lithium from the geothermal brines as well as the micas in Cornish deposits, while utilising the geothermal energy at the same time in the production process, we certainly would have a ‘green’ source of lithium, indeed, there is the potential for carbon negative lithium production.”

Tuesday 17th March 2020

Today we spoke to Dr Eleanor Reed who is a Principal Environmental Scientist specialising in soil, agricultural land and peatlands based in our Newcastle upon Tyne office.

What does water and climate change mean to you?
“The emphasis on minimising peat disturbance as a result of developments; and peatland restoration has become increasingly common since I started working at Wardell Armstrong five years ago; primarily driven as a response to Climate Change and a peatland’s unrivalled ability to sequester Carbon (when in a healthy condition).  In addition to Carbon sequestration, a healthy peatland ecosystem also provides a myriad of ecosystem services, including; helping alleviate flooding risks; improving water quality; and providing a valuable habitat for many species.

The key challenges for keeping carbon locked up in the peat, is to retain peatland wetness to minimise carbon oxidation and slow the process of organic matter decomposition.  However, with climate change expected to alter our current temperature regimes and precipitation patterns, peatlands; particularly those which are already more vulnerable due to both historic and existing land (mis)management; and proposed developments, may experience peat drying and subsequent Carbon losses.

Developers are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of peat and considering peat restoration as part of development schemes; including returning intensively managed agricultural land to peatland, which, when successfully delivered, will not only reduce Carbon losses to the environment, but also contribute to climate change mitigations including natural flood management.

I believe peatland restoration is possibly one of the most significant contributions in land management to help mitigate climate change in the UK; and contribute to natural flood management and improvement of water quality.”

Wednesday 18th March 2020

Paul Evans is our Service Director for Energy and Climate Change and based in our Truro office. We asked him:

What does water and climate change mean to you?
“Climate change is at the heart of what we do, be it developing carbon strategies for some of the UKs largest and most prestigious developments or assisting clients with renewable strategies to assist with low carbon operations. Water will play an increasingly important role in all of these projects both as a risk, as we see considerably wetter winters and drier summers, but also as an opportunity for increased resource efficiency and as a gateway into circular economy thinking at both the micro and macro scales.”

Thursday 19th March 2020

Today Jane Iwanicki, Service Director for Mineral Estates, based in our Newcastle upon Tyne office, tells us about what this year’s World Water Day 2020 theme means to her.

What does water and climate change mean to you?
“The minerals sector understands that it must continue to adapt and work towards carbon emission reductions. Managing water consumption is definitely on the agenda and in recent years, I have seen increased reuse and recirculation in mineral processing and the use of alternative water supplies such as rainwater harvesting. Our mineral planning and water teams are also working with quarry operators and their landlords to incorporate flood storage benefits as part of working and restoration designs, which can also deliver biodiversity gains.”

Friday 20th March 2020

In the final day of our World Water Day campaign, we spoke our Service Lead for Hydrogeology and Hydrology, Lauren Ballarini who is based in our Head Office in Stoke-on-Trent.

What does water and climate change mean to you?
“I’m sat here writing this article in early March after a February in the UK which was the wettest on record for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland was wetter in 1990). It was hard for anyone to miss the fact that we were receiving a lot of rainfall and this was resulting in widespread misery for thousands of people due to the resultant flooding.Yet the weather we saw in February this year may well represent the new normal for the UK. February 2020 was the 5th wettest month in a series of data stretching back to 1862 – a dataset representing approximately 1,800 records – with two of the other wettest months occurring in 2009 and 2015. The met office have found that single storm events such as Storm Dennis have become 59% more likely due to climate change [1]. What might have been less apparent, as people hid from the rain, was how mild it was. Whilst not record breaking, temperatures recorded in the south-east were up to 3.5 degrees warmer than would be expected for February, with much of the country south of the midlands experiencing temperatures up to 2.5 degrees warmer than baseline. Warmer and wetter winters are the predicted effect of climate change in the UK.

The other end of the seesaw of climate change for the UK is that our summers are expected to become hotter and drier. By 2050, the climate of London in the summer could resemble that of Barcelona now with Edinburgh mimicking Paris. In 2008, Barcelona had a devastating drought which saw it importing water from France. Yet water experts cite not only low rainfall as the reason for Barcelona’s 2008 drought but antiquated, leaking water networks. Comparisons with London’s own Victorian infrastructure are not difficult to draw where estimates of losses by Thames Water are in the region of 3 billion litres every day and burst water pipes during the Beast from the East in 2018 left 20,000 homes without running water. Water supplier figures show that by 2050 due to population growth, poor quality water supply networks and climate change, the shortfall in available water to meet the city’s demands may be over 20%.

So, what are the solutions to these two problems which seem to be diametrically opposed? A holistic approach to water management. You probably already do this on a small scale in your everyday life – with a water butt! The captured rainwater – which otherwise would have gone to a drain or sewer – is used to water your garden or wash your car – thus saving clean, treated, potable tap water (and yourself money). This model needs to be scaled up to every city, every industry, every company. Delaying taking action on climate change poses as big a risk to water security as denial of climate change does.

For existing urban situations, adaption of existing schemes need to be implemented. Paris have retrofitted a dual-water system where both potable water and non-treated water are supplied to the city. Non-treated water is used for watering parks and municipal fountains and potable water is strictly controlled. Paris is not the only city to seek this kind of solution with much of California sourcing its potable water from treated sewage since the 1970s. The natural aquifer material is used as a filtration system for the treated wastewater prior to it being consumed by over one million people. While these are large scale schemes, systems such as these could easily be included within SuDS schemes for major new housing or industrial developments – if the appetite and incentives were there for them. At the smaller end of the scale, grey water recycling systems could be employed for local housing developments or areas of commercial units. Many people will have heard me on my soapbox about why we’re still flushing toilets with potable water!

Separation of rainwater from the sewer system (as opposed to the combined sewers which are widely used across the UK) not only allows clean and dirty water to remain distinct in the event of a flooding event thus protecting human health in these emergencies but also gives better control on how the excess rain water can be managed. In Los Angeles, this management takes the form of restoration of a former quarry to a large scale groundwater recharge system (with a parkland on the surface). The quarry is designed to capture billions of litres of water, act as a filtration system for the stormwater before the treated water is recharged into the underlying groundwater. A water piggy bank with cumulative interest function.

Reservoirs, whether used to store drinking, agricultural or industrial water, may capture and hold water but if our climate becomes drier, higher evaporative losses will increase. Use of shade balls in reservoirs are common around the world as are floating solar panels. Renewable energy could be generated on our reservoirs which could then be used in the industry (be it drinking water treatment or agricultural) which the water is being stored for. A win: win situation for the environment and the water user in supporting a business’ key performance indicator for sustainability.

For new developments a major overhaul of how we view recharge and discharge is needed. Instead of aiming to funnel water away from urban areas we may need to be looking to capture it and recycle it. A concept known as ’sponge cities’. China leads the way on the initiative for these cities with their green roof tops, water segregation, aquifer recharge schemes and wetlands for water storage. A knock on effect can be seen in the overall supply chain for the construction of these urban areas with the more sustainable application of concrete (the production of which is one of the leading causes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) as kilometers of piping and hard standing is replaced with bioswales.

The water supply crisis was identified as the fourth greatest risk to society over the next decade in the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risk Report. In economic terms, it is interesting to note that Michael Burry (one of the few investors who predicted the financial crash in 2008) is investing in water betting that limited supply and increasing demand will drive up prices in the future.

Once of the key messages for this year’s World Water Day is that as a result of the increased impacts of climate change we cannot afford to wait, and everyone has a role to play. Therefore, on Sunday 22nd March, I would encourage you to think about your own water usage, including steps you can do now that will contribute to the fight against climate change, as even the small act of turning off the tap while you brush your teeth can help save water. Every drop saved can bring us closer to managing and combating climate change.

Happy World Water Day 2020!”


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