Big question

BQ1 - How do we halve Freshwater Abstractions in a Sustainable way by 2050?



We are currently working on the approach to answering this Big Question, and more information will be given here soon.

The areas that this Big Question covers includes:

  • Resilient water resources that cope with, and recover from, disruptions as well as anticipate trends and variability in order to maintain our supplies
  • Eliminate water wastage
  • Maximise use of potential new sources of drinking water (eg. desalination, final effluent re-use, rainwater harvesting)

Once we understand where the gaps are, we will produce a route map – this is a plan as to how we will answer our Big Question.

The route map will have a number of key elements. At the top will be our Big Question and then we will look to see what Outcomes we need from the research programme -if we can achieve all these outcomes we can answer the Big Question. This is the stage we are currently at for this Big Question.

The next stage will be to think about the key benefits we want the research projects to deliver to meet these outcomes.

Following this, we will plan the research projects to help deliver the benefits.

Improving understanding of current and future household water use

Water companies have committed to meeting ambitious targets that reduce how much water customers use, but have recognised they need to look at both extremes of the water cycle – the point at which water is abstracted from the natural environment (which is being looked at by other research projects for this same Big Question) and the point at which it is used, enjoyed, or lost/wasted in households.

HR Wallingford have just been awarded a contract to help us delve into this, read our factsheet below to know more.

Household water use factsheet 


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Understanding of current and future household consumption.

Project Status - Project Completed


Assessing the costs and benefits of nonessential use Drought orders – feasibility study.

Project Status - Expressions of Interest

Category - Water Resources

In applying for a non-essential water use ban (NEUB) drought order a water company must provide an assessment of its cost – benefit.  To calculate the costs and benefits of a NEUB, good information is needed about the make-up of the non-household customer base of the area the NEUB is to apply to, the water uses and related economics. Following the 2022 drought when a number of companies made preparations to apply for a NEUB, the lack of detailed understanding of the impacts of this was seen to be a concern, particularly to Retailers.

There are a number of challenges to establishing the level of detail of this information that is necessary to make meaningful estimates of the costs and benefits of applying a NEUB. The project will look to make a start in addressing these challenges by undertaking a data and literature review to provide an understanding of a potential follow on project that would look to quantify the costs and benefits of NEUB implementation.


BQ How do we halve our abstractions by 2050? Research review and gap analysis.

Project Status - Project Completed

Category - Water Resources

The Big Question of ‘How do we halve our abstractions by 2050?’ is a key strategic research programme for UKWIR. However, at present it is not clear what the research needs are. These needs should take into account what research has been done and what is currently on-going. This project will produce a community-owned list of prioritised research needs in order to halve our abstractions by 2050. This list will support the development of a research programme, form the basis for future planning and identify potential collaborations with other research organisations.


The project will enable the following:

Identify the needs and potential outcomes for long-term research;

Facilitate collaboration with academics, research organisations, funding agencies, and other stakeholders;

Minimise the duplication of future research projects and ensure greater alignment.