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


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.


National Framework for water resources - Environmental Destination investigation framework.

Project Status - Project Commenced

Category - Water Resources

The National Framework for water resources sets out the principles, expectations and challenges for the five regional water resources groups and individual water company Water Resource Management Plans (WRMP). The National Framework represents one of the most significant drivers for investment in water resources for AMP8 and beyond.

The National Framework presents, for England, potential future abstraction licence reduction scenarios to maintain Water Framework Directive (WFD) status in the future. It also duels with the fundamental issue is about how to plan for adequate environmental flows under WFD (no-deterioration) and should be of interest to other devolved administrations and Ireland.

The scenarios being evaluated in regional plans equate to between 1800 and 3200Ml/d loss of water company abstraction between 2030 – 2050.  The EA scenarios have been generated using their WRGIS tool, a UKCP09 climate change scenario and policy assumptions to provide a top-down initial assessment for WRMP24. 

This is recognised by both regulators and water companies as having significant uncertainty.  Detailed catchment specific evaluations will be required to reduce this uncertainty.

To reduce this uncertainty, there is the opportunity to review/develop the models will enable the industry to:

  • Supplement environmental monitoring data with newly gathered information on abstraction utilisation and use this to forecast future needs.
  • Apply more catchment specific hydro-ecology models, or other frameworks.
  • To refine the data on the flows that are required to support a healthy ecosystem,
  • Predict how and where protection is likely to be needed in a changing climate.