Reports from the Environment Agency indicate that over 2.5 million properties and about 5000 people are at risk from flooding in the UK. Although there is still no clear picture of the impact of climate change on extreme weather events, a variety of data-base trend studies and scenario-based simulation studies suggest that climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of floods and droughts in the UK. Floods are expected to become increasingly unpredictable and multi-sourced and to occur in areas that have less recent experience of large scale floods. Water scarcity is expected to become more common in some parts of the UK in the future due to the combined effects of climate change and population growth. According to Waterwise UK, this is projected to be exacerbated by levels of household water consumption that are among the highest in north-west Europe.
The threat and uncertainty of climate change is expected to impact the level of service of UWMSs leading to increased incidences of failure. Even the best engineered systems may not be able to safeguard water users against the consequences of flooding and drought. Increasingly, more focus is being placed on improving the outcomes that customers and the wider society value (e.g. reliable and safe service, customer satisfaction, environmental quality and fair, transparent and acceptable bills) through more resilient services. Water companies are investing in research and development to improve outcomes for customers. For instance Thames Water innovators have created and are now testing an early-warning system for homes at risk of sewer flooding. A device triggers an alarm if flows in the drain gets too high, alerting householders so they can call Thames Water before effluent spills into their homes. South West Water are investigating the use of rainwater harvesting for stormwater attenuation in flood prone areas and Severn Trent are investigating the use of recycled water (for toilet flushing and bathing) by domestic customers in response to the need to reduce demand of diminishing fresh water resources.
These are but a few cases of how more customer focussed approaches are being tested and implemented. The customer has varying levels of involvement in all these examples but how much responsibility are customers prepared to take on in urban water management? Although there is much progress towards ensuring that customers get the best outcomes, can customers today afford to continue to be just water users? Is there a wider role for them to fill the niche of hydrocitizenship, exploring and shaping their roles in both the supply and demand side of the water sector? These are but some of the aspects that my research will uncover over the next year and half. A place based approach will be used to understand how perceptions, actions and experiences in relation to floods and drought vary according to specific geographic locations in the southwest of England.