The future water environment--using scenarios to explore the significant water management challenges in England and Wales to 2050

Sci Total Environ. 2015 Apr 15;512-513:381-396. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.12.047. Epub 2015 Jan 30.


Society gets numerous benefits from the water environment. It is crucial to ensure that water management practices deliver these benefits over the long-term in a sustainable and cost-effective way. Currently, hydromorphological alterations and nutrient enrichment pose the greatest challenges in European water bodies. The rapidly changing climatic and socio-economic boundary conditions pose further challenges to water management decisions and the achievement of policy goals. Scenarios are a strategic tool useful in conducting systematic investigations of future uncertainties pertaining to water management. In this study, the use of scenarios revealed water management challenges for England and Wales to 2050. A set of existing scenarios relevant to river basin management were elaborated through stakeholder workshops and interviews, relying on expert knowledge to identify drivers of change, their interdependencies, and influence on system dynamics. In a set of four plausible alternative futures, the causal chain from driving forces through pressures to states, impacts and responses (DPSIR framework) was explored. The findings suggest that scenarios driven by short-term economic growth and competitiveness undermine current environmental legislative requirements and exacerbate the negative impacts of climate change, producing a general deterioration of water quality and physical habitats, as well as reduced water availability with adverse implications for the environment, society and economy. Conversely, there are substantial environmental improvements under the scenarios characterised by long-term sustainability, though achieving currently desired environmental outcomes still poses challenges. The impacts vary across contrasting generic catchment types that exhibit distinct future water management challenges. The findings suggest the need to address hydromorphological alterations, nutrient enrichment and nitrates in drinking water, which are all likely to be exacerbated in the future. Future-proofing river basin management measures that deal with these challenges is crucial moving forward. The use of scenarios to future-proof strategy, policy and delivery mechanisms is discussed to inform next steps.

Keywords: DPSIR framework; EU Water Framework Directive; River basin management; Scenario analysis; Water management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Climate Change
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • England
  • Environment
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Wales
  • Water Resources / statistics & numerical data*
  • Water Supply / statistics & numerical data*