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News & opinion

27 NOV 2018

RICS Water Conference calls for a tidal change on water management

RICS is calling on government, industry and business to collaboratively approach the challenges of flooding and the management of water supplies.

Doing this will help reduce both the incidence and impact of flooding, and future proof water supplies, as UK population growth and warmer temperatures are set to take their toll.

Almost 200 surveying professionals came together at the inaugural RICS Water Conference to debate the challenges facing the future of UK water and highlight the unique role that chartered surveyors working in the natural environment play in water management.

Climate change and a growing population are increasing the UK’s risk of flooding. Chartered surveyors are uniquely placed to assess the human and economic impact of flooding and RICS has long called on government to invest in holistic flood prevention and management.

Martin McAuley, RICS policy manager said: “It is critical that government invests in sustainable flood defence infrastructure. Previous models have focused on keeping floodwater out, but with the growing impact of climate change, this is not sustainable. To deal with the projected risks of flooding, government and local authorities need to prioritise flood prevention and management schemes and work with professionals in the sector to tackle flooding at the source.”

It is critical that government invests in sustainable flood defence infrastructure. Previous models have focused on keeping floodwater out, but with the growing impact of climate change, this is not sustainable.

Martin McAuley

Located mainly in rural areas, such flood prevention methods include: 

  • tree planting in uplands to act as a buffer and slow down the flow of water
  • managing and storing water through the creation of ponds and ditches
  • increasing soil infiltration, through planting spongey bog moss. 

McAuley added: “DEFRA’s 25-year plan took the initial steps needed to tackle this issue, but as the Brexit departure date looms this could be subject to change. The UK needs to manage water close to the point of source and not try and stop it when it’s too late. Rural landowners can help divert and slow floodwater, and help build future resources, but need support to do so. As part of the shift to a new regime of farm payment schemes and an increased focus on public goods, RICS highlights the role that land managers can play in the prevention and mitigation of serious flooding incidents.” 

Fiona Mannix, RICS associate director, land, commented: “Chartered surveyors working in the countryside have always had a key role to play in ensuring water, our most precious resource, is both utilised and managed sustainably. With the focus going forward firmly placed on the role that our natural resources can play in delivering public goods for public money, chartered surveyors engaged in land management have the skills to ensure that water continues to be managed sustainably and to ensure its value as an asset is maximised.” 

Increased flooding risks are not the only challenges. Without the management of water now, the UK could see the supply of water failing to keep up with growing demand. Such a shortage would impact UK daily life and social problems, including the housing crisis. 

To protect future water resources, RICS recommends government explores water sensitive urban design integration, and the construction sector reviews the water-specific life cycle costs of buildings and developments.

Mannix continued: “When the average person in the UK uses 140 litres of water per day, the role water plays in our lives is staggering and often overlooked. Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) are an option to help manage water in the UK and have already been advocated by government as a way of addressing the environmental challenges. RICS supports the use of SUDS and has been engaged with the University of Portsmouth in looking at the associated costs and value.”

The Savills-sponsored conference – hosted in Solihull in collaboration with the Environment Agency – was the first flagship conference held outside of London, and also covered water abstraction in England, riparian rights, and the roles and responsibilities of water companies.