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A new water risk map for Great Britain


New higher resolution data underscores why businesses need to pay attention to water risk in the UK

Businesses are a key ally for WWF in working on water issues. In the same way as our freshwater ecosystems are in trouble without an adequate flow of good quality water, so too are businesses and their supply chains that depend on those same water resources, not to mention the communities that also rely on clean and reliable water supplies. These shared water challenges are why we work so hard to engage businesses in discussions on how water is managed in catchments and river basins.

Having businesses on our side in making the case for sustainable water management means that the arguments we put to those who make the rules on how water is managed are all the more powerful.

Since 2012, the Water Risk Filter (WRF) has been an important tool for us to get businesses engaged in water stewardship, allowing them to understand where their main water risks are and, importantly, what they can do about it. At its simplest, the WRF allows businesses to assess the location of operations, supply chains or investments and returns a set of scores for that location that indicate the degree to which that site is exposed to water risks. To date the WRF has been used by over 2,500 businesses and organisations to assess more than 140,000 sites globally.

Until now the WRF has used datasets that have global coverage. This enables businesses to compare consistently the water risk of a site in, for example, the UK with one in India. However, when we zoom down to a local level, these global datasets often fail to capture water risk at a fine-scale, or reflect often important local nuances. As a result, we decided we would make use of the good availability of data on water for parts of the UK to develop an equivalent water risk indicator at a higher resolution. In practice, we found that it was difficult to get hold of data for Northern Ireland so the water risk map covers Great Britain only.

Higher resolution water risk map for GB. A score of 1 indicates the lowest risk and 5 indicates highest risk.Higher resolution water risk map for GB. A score of 1 indicates the lowest risk and 5 indicates highest risk.

The new higher resolution water risk map data for GB draws on Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy (CAMS) data from the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW), and data from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), to highlight areas of water scarcity.

We used data collected for the Water Framework Directive to show risks from groundwater over-abstraction and pollution. For England and Wales, we have used the flood risk map from the EA and NRW to show catchments that have the largest areas at flood risk. These data have been combined using the same framework as the global WRF risk tool to come up with a new unique map of water risk for GB. A detailed description of the method we used is available as a PDF report.

The map highlights which catchments and rivers in GB are facing the highest pressure. The highest risk areas are in particular concentrated in the South East of England and East Anglia, and it is striking how the highest water risk areas largely correspond with England’s iconic chalk streams, one of our most important freshwater habitats. Much of the water risk is driven by the fact that many of our southern rivers are at or over their capacity for water abstraction and are often affected by pollution. Across England and Wales only 17% of our rivers are considered to be at Good Ecological Status.

River Itchen chalk stream splits into smaller channels as it moves through water meadows near Ovington, Hampshire, UK © Andrew Parkinson/WWF-UKRiver Itchen chalk stream splits into smaller channels as it moves through water meadows near Ovington, Hampshire, UK © Andrew Parkinson/WWF-UK

Having these data and new GB risk map integrated within the WRF will allow businesses with domestic operations or supply chains to work out which of their sites face the highest water risks, and where they should be starting to engage local stakeholders to mitigate that risk through water stewardship.

We want businesses to get involved with their local Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) partnership to support improvements to the water environment through the delivery of River Basin Management Plans. The Water Stewardship Board initiated by the Cam and Ely Ouse CaBA, which is being supported by us through our WaterLIFE project, is a great example of how businesses can get involved in water stewardship at a local level in the UK.

How you can get involved

We will be running a webinar on 17 June that will outline how the WRF works and how it can be useful for businesses. A practical training session at our offices in Woking on 7 July will go into more hands-on detail.

If you are a business and would like to learn more about the Water Risk Filter at either of these two events, please register your interest.

You can also follow me on twitter @conorlinstead , the main WRF account @WWFWaterRisk, and the Water Risk Filter for announcements.

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