Water summit looks at issues of supply and demand and climate change

The challenges facing water supply and demand in Oxfordshire were discussed at a water summit looking at the issue in the medium to long term.

Oxfordshire County Council organised last month’s event, which featured representatives from Thames Water, campaigners from the Group Against Reservoir Development (GARD), county, district and parish councillors, water regulator Ofwat, the Environment Agency, researchers from Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University and other stakeholders.

Its aim was to bring together groups to discuss the issues and explore sustainable solutions for the county. It was held against the backdrop of Water Resources South East (WRSE) developing a plan for securing future water supplies for the region, and draft water company management plans that are also being developed.

Items for discussion included draft proposals to build a seven square kilometre reservoir between Abingdon, Steventon and East Hanney – plans that have been consistently opposed by Oxfordshire County Council over the last 15 years.

The event was chaired by Councillor Pete Sudbury, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Environment, who said: “This water summit was a safe space to communicate insights into the pressures driving water usage up and the difficulties involved in the plans to meet that demand. It allowed us to hear all sides of the reservoir debate and we have a whole list of follow-up actions.”

The issue of climate change and the need to develop resilience, safeguarding water supplies against extreme weather events, was a powerful underlying theme, as well as uncertainties around population growth and our ability to reduce water use, which have potentially deep impacts on the need for new supplies.

Cllr Sudbury added: “Climate change is the real wild card here because it involves deep uncertainty, particularly around exactly the extreme events (for example multi-year droughts) that would most threaten water supplies.”

WRSE is currently consulting on its draft regional plan, with Oxfordshire County Council expected to issue its response to the proposals in early 2023.

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