Water industry bosses have published a survey highlighting what they have described as “the Great British rain paradox”.
They said: “The UK is renowned for being wet and rainy yet we may face future water shortages.”
Demand could outstrip supply within 25 years, they said, unless urgent steps are taken now.
The challenge was underlined by a survey which found that two thirds of people in Brighton and Hove believed that we have enough water to meet our needs.
And a third thought that it was unlikely that we would face water shortages in the future.
The survey also found that people living in Brighton and Hove were least concerned about their consumption of fresh water (13 per cent) compared with other environmental considerations.
It found that three times as many – 39 per cent – were concerned how much plastic they threw away and 21 per cent were concerned about energy consumption.
The survey found that 42 per cent of respondents in Brighton and Hove said that they used the eco setting on their washing machine. Only 24 per cent of them also used their dishwasher’s eco setting.
But it also suggested that 62 per cent would be willing to cut the amount of water that they used by a third if they knew how.
The survey – part of the Love Water campaign set up by industry group Water UK – contacted 2,000 people. The findings were published in a report called The Great British Rain Paradox.
In the report, Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan said: “The UK has a reputation for being a wet, rainy nation.
“This report shows 77 per cent of the British public agree with the statement that ‘the UK is a wet, rainy country’.
“This perception is wrong. Yes, we have periods of intense rain. February 2020 was the wettest month on record, with Storms Ciara and Dennis causing flooding that brought misery to tens of thousands of people.
“But climate change is also causing long spells of dry weather that are putting our water resources under increased pressure.
“May 2020 has been the driest on record – and exceptionally dry weather across the south east between 2017 and 2019 led to some of the lowest groundwater levels we have ever seen.
“In future, we are likely to see even more records being broken and further periods of exceptionally dry weather and drought.
“But there is good news. Despite the fact that the UK population is expected to rise from 67 million today to 72.4 million by 2043, if we all take concerted action now, we can ensure that there will be enough water to go around for generations to come.”
The report suggested “making small everyday changes” to avoid future pressures on water supplies.
These changes included “being mindful of running taps, taking shorter showers and fewer baths and avoid pre-rinsing dishes before loading a dishwasher”.
The report also urged anyone buying a new dishwasher, washing machine, toilet or shower to check for water efficiency.
And, for people with cars and gardens, it added: “Hoses and sprinklers can use up to 1,000 litres of an hour. Instead, use a watering can in the garden and fit a water butt to collect rainwater off your roof. Wash your car with a bucket of water rather than a hose.”
Similar tips have been offered by Southern Water as part of its Target 100 campaign, aimed at encouraging people to cut their water use to 100 litres a day each.
The company said: “Population growth, climate change, increased urbanisation and environmental protection mean we all need to change how we understand and value water.
“Target 100, our industry-leading demand reduction programme, is a critical part in how we are driving this change.”
Southern Water said that, for its part, it was working to find and fix leaks and that its innovative work in reducing leakage had been “recognised as one of the best in the sector”.
The company added that water bills were helping people to monitor their water use – and of course that using less water meant cheaper bills.
Southern Water chief executive Ian McAulay has also been working with the Greater Brighton Economic Board – made up of senior figures from councils, education and business – on the infrastructure needs across the area.
And in March the National Audit Office published a report, Water Supply and Demand Management.
It said: “Water shortages are an impending risk for the UK. Parts of the country face a significant risk from drought.”