Nutrient neutrality is a much-discussed issue following the recent political football it created, with the House of Lords rejecting government legislation to remove EU-era rules relating to river pollution caused by housing developments. However, there is another water-related environmental issue at play that developers need to be aware of to avoid similar planning headaches.

Caroline Gray-Mason

Caroline Gray-Mason

With the ongoing water scarcity crisis, water neutrality requirements represent another potential environmental challenge facing developers. It is essential for developers to become aware of the issue now and explore solutions that navigate the challenge of water neutrality before current localised mandates proliferate.

Shaped by evolving environmental, social and governance agendas and local environmental plans, developers are increasingly familiar with approaches that mitigate the ecological impact of their schemes.

Whereas nutrient neutrality addresses waterway pollution, water neutrality concerns water consumption.

Natural England defines the water neutrality requirement as: “For every new development, total water use in the region after the development must be equal to or less than the total water-use in the region before the new development.”

Put simply, this calls for water efficiency, recycling and offsetting measures and includes a water budget showing details of baseline and proposed consumption.

Research shows that seven regions in England are at risk of running dry by 2030

Water neutrality rules were driven by a position statement from the government’s environmental advisory group, Natural England recognising the negative ecological impact of ground water abstraction surrounding the Arun Valley in  the South East of England.

Now, any new development in the area that would lead to an increase in water demand must demonstrate water neutrality. Given the water scarcity challenge, this could be the start of widespread water neutrality requirements and an updated position statement from Natural England.

Headlines about hosepipe bans and drought conditions in the South West are more than just news items; they are symptomatic of the water scarcity crisis.

Research by Kingfisher, owner of Screwfix and B&Q, shows that seven regions in England are at risk of running dry by 2030.

Factors contributing to the water scarcity crisis include population expansion and growing levels of urbanisation as new schemes come online.

Arun Valley shutterstock_1124254940

High and dry: the Arun Valley has suffered from groundwater abstraction 

Despite this, there have been no major infrastructure projects that will improve supply to mitigate further ecological harm from groundwater abstraction. For example, the next reservoir won’t be built until 2029. This means it is likely that more councils will consider water neutrality requirements in local environmental plans. Consequently, it will be up to developers to play a more active role in addressing the water scarcity crisis.

When tackling water neutrality, developers can approach it in the same way as improving energy efficiency and emissions to be carbon neutral. With water, the goal is to reduce per capita consumption (PCC).

Many developers will be aware of specially designed fixtures and fittings including toilets, taps and shower heads that can reduce PCC at the point of consumption. But in areas impacted by water neutrality mandates, developers’ strategies need to display a precise, credible and deliverable means to achieve water neutrality.

This means no stone must be left unturned. Developers will need to look at how to deliver more widescale reductions that work before the point of consumption and make a building’s water supply more efficient. Navigating this requires a building to be PCC efficient by design with its water supply through the use of control flow products, which eliminate flow variations caused by pressure fluctuations in the supply system to offer a steady flow, with deviations of less than 2%.

Control fow products are readily available for new build-schemes, whether they are large-scale developments or individual units. They are also available for existing properties where they are retrofitted as part of a turnkey approach that does not require a existing infrastructure to be ripped out and replaced. With a 10-year lifespan, these products can be installed at various points throughout a development onto existing piping and inline.

Now is a golden opportunity for developers to navigate a potential water-related challenge with their schemes and prepare in advance of any future water neutrality mandates.

Looking at the current landscape around water neutrality, it’s apparent that navigating the issue requires a reliable, proven, accessible solution. By considering ‘efficiency by design’ centred around a control flow solution, developers can take a meaningful step in achieving water neutrality and play their part in solving the water scarcity crisis.

Caroline Gray-Mason is a business development director – water at Cenergist