Climate change and the water environment

Our changing climate is expected to lead to more extreme weather events for Reading. These will include more intense rainfall and floods, heat-waves and droughts. The impacts are predicted to increase over time, with winters getting warmer and wetter, while summers become hotter and drier.

Reading is located in one of the most water stressed parts of the country, with a similar water availability per head to some communities in the Middle East. Approximately 80% of Reading’s water is abstracted from the River Kennet, at the Fobney Water Treatment works. The chalk aquifer under the Berkshire Downs is the source of most of the water in the Kennet. Fortunately this gives Reading a good level of resilience for its water supply. However, we are vulnerable: with the potential for more intense future droughts – coupled with the expected growth of the town – we need to make sure we manage our use of water carefully.

As with other sectors, COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the water sector. We have seen a big increase in peak water usage, and a dramatic shift in the balance between domestic and commercial water consumption. Some of these changes, including more working from home, are likely to be permanent. Hence it will be a priority for us to understand how much more vulnerable Reading’s water supply is, and it will make delivery of our actions even more important so we can prepare for the added impacts of the changing climate.

The risk of flooding will increase for Reading, particularly from the River Thames and from surface water, as a result of more intense storms. We have a large area of land at risk of flooding which is predicted to get worse due to climate change: increasing the frequency, duration and depth of floods; and increasing the area of land at risk. This needs to be taken into account when considering new development, including buildings. A Strategic Flood Risk Assessment (SFRA) has already been undertaken which describes and analyses how Reading is affected by flood risk and the nature of that risk. The flood plain plays an important role in protecting the built-up area of Reading and the surrounding area as it accommodates floodwater. This has been recognised in Reading’s adopted Local Plan and reflected within in its policies to ensure that: the capacity of the floodplain is not reduced; flood flow paths are not obstructed; and that inappropriate development in the flood-plain is avoided.

Progress to date

We have a strong community of water industry experts in Reading, who will help guide us towards our vision and targets. These include:

  • Thames Water (who have their head office in Reading) supply all of our water, and most of our drainage, and have a lot of information and expertise to share
  • The Environment Agency regulate our water environment and will help us to understand what the environmental limits are, as climate change increases our drought and flood risk

There are also a number of policies in the Reading Local Plan, adopted in November 2019, which are designed to encourage more efficient use of water and prepare for the impacts described above.

Priorities on the pathway to net zero for emissions related to water use

A big focus for the water theme will be on learning over the next 5 years, as we help everyone to become more ‘water aware’. The need to save water is primarily an adaptation issue. However, approximately 1% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions are associated with pumping and treating water, so being more water efficient will make a notable difference. Of greater significance is the energy involved in heating water in our homes. This can be a very large part of the carbon footprint of a house. Measures to tackle this are picked up in the Energy and Low Carbon Development theme.

Key adaptation issues for the water environment

Reducing our water consumption is a vital response to the increasing risk from drought with the changing climate. Ambitious national targets on water efficiency are anticipated within the next year. Rather than set additional targets on water we intend to develop these, during the life of this strategy, into robust 2050 targets for Reading. These will aim to make us the most water efficient town in the country. Following on from this, we intend to:

  • Contact Defra and volunteer Reading as a case study town to benchmark this new 2050 target
  • Work with council planners and Thames Water to develop our already good Local Plan policies to explore the concept of ‘Water Neutrality’ in new development
  • Research into water reuse, and help us understand our potential to help reduce future water demand
  • Support Thames Water’s future rollout of smart water meters on household and commercial properties

Our other key priority for Reading is to improve flood resilience:

  • Through education we will help people and businesses prepare. By 2025 we want everyone at risk of flooding in Reading to be signed-up to the EA Flood Warning service
  • We will advise on and encourage the reshaping of the town: breaking-up hard surfaces and encouraging green roofs, natural flood management measures and sustainable drainage systems to slow the flow of storm water. This will give it a chance to irrigate rather than flood the town

We also want to improve understanding about where our water goes so that we can minimise the impacts of waste water on the environment.

Water Theme Action Plan: Reading will aim to become the most water aware and water efficient town in the UK, going beyond national targets. We will achieve this by developing and implementing a dedicated communications and education strategy and delivering a range of water saving improvements in Reading’s homes and businesses. Climate change will also increase the risk of flooding: significantly from the River Thames and from urban storm water. We will help residents and businesses understand these risks and to get ready for them.

Action plans

Action name Description Targets and measure/milestone Target
completion date
Delivery partners
Educate the public
about Reading’s water
» Share and explain our 2050 target and how this compares to current
consumption, e.g.:
– Domestic water consumption by activity
– Info on non-domestic water consumption
– Where our water comes from
» Develop Comms Strategy for engaging public, including schools
Links: Education, Community, Business, Communication and Engagement
Available material published on RCAN website
New material prepared and published
Thames Water
Educate households
about their water
consumption and the
need to save water
» Share information on the risks of drought and importance
of water conservation
» Provide tips and information on how to save water
in the home and garden
» Develop and implement Comms Strategy for engaging households
Links: Energy & LCD, Nature, Communication and Engagement
Information resource compiled and published
Comms programme underway
Thames Water
Educate businesses
about water use,
efficiency benefits,
and dry weather
Share the Thames Water Drought Plan
» Signpost relevant information and case studies from reputable sources
» Create industry-specific advice and case studies
» Run a drought exercise with Local Resilience Forum (LRF), partners and
» Communicate the Environment Agency ‘incident management’
approach to drought
Links: Business, Energy and LCD, Communication and Engagement
Information resource compiled and published 2
Industry-specific guidance available
Drought exercise and incident management
Thames Water (lead)
Environment Agency
Reading Business
Climate Action Network
Educate the public
about water quality and
sewer abuse
» Publish sewer abuse and water quality stats, messages and content to
RCAN website
Links: Business, Community, Communication and Engagement
Content published 2021 Thames Water
Water efficiency
» Promote installation of water saving and efficiency devices
during refurbishment
» Promote Thames Water’s ‘Smarter Business Visit’ scheme
to all schools in Reading
» Increase awareness of leaky-loos and benefits
of fixing plumbing losses
» Engage with building management companies
to promote retrofitting/leak fix
» Expand the provision of water info packs from new homes
to all households
» Promote Thames Water’s ‘Smarter Home’ visit scheme
to homes with smart meters
» Support the roll-out of smart meters
» Conduct periodic research on understanding and engagement
with water saving
Links: Community, Business, Communication and Engagement
Refurbishment programme
Schools visits, building management company
engagement and leaky loos programme
Water info packs, smart meters and
research project
Reading Borough Council
Thames Water
University of Reading
‘Water Neutrality’ as a
planning requirement
» Investigate whether the RBC Sustainable Planning Document can be
modified to include:
– the requirement for all new major developments to contribute to
funding water saving measures equivalent to the development’s water
– adopting the ‘fittings approach’ within Building Regulations rather
than a pcc calculation approach
Links: Energy and LCD
Share the contents of the Sustainable Planning
Document on RCAN website
Feedback on required amendments
Amendments implemented
Reading Borough Council
Thames Water
Leadership and
» Lobby MPs and Defra to introduce a mandatory water label to help
consumers make water-efficient choices
» Lobby MPs and Defra to strengthen building regulations and planning
process, to drive water efficiency within all new developments and
procurement schemes
Water labelling
Building regs and planning
Research to drive future
» Research the costs, benefits and suitability, of rainfall harvesting and
grey water recycling schemes.
» Use UKCP18 climate modelling and local river flow models, to develop
projections for future drought / water resource availability.
» With RBC and LEP update our estimates of Reading population growth
to 2050
» Develop a new evidence-based 2050 water target
» Review the first Adaptation Plan and identify and deliver initial winwin opportunities
» Identify thresholds, risks, solutions and case studies for the second
Adaptation Plan
» Work with Thames Water to understand the changes to household and
business water use due to COVID-19 impacts
Links: Adaptation
Develop research proposals 2020-25 RCAN
University of Reading
Action name Description Targets and measure/milestone Target
completion date
Delivery partners
Raise awareness of
fluvial (river) flood risk
» Raise awareness of flood risk from the River Thames and the proposed
Reading and Caversham Scheme by carrying out various engagement
» Update the flood maps on the Gov.UK website to show the areas at
risk of flooding based on the latest flood modelling
Links: Education, Business, Transport, Community, Adaptation
Engagement activities
Flood maps updated
Q2-3 2020
Environment Agency
Reading Borough Council
Local councillors
Local businesses and
community groups
Raise awareness of
the Flood Warning and
flood alert service
» Increase the number of at-risk homes and businesses signed-up to
receive Flood Alerts
» Signpost advice on the Flood Warning Service and what to do before,
during and after a flood
» Develop “what if” scenarios to help people and businesses understand
the importance of self-preparation, and education about flood risk
Links: Education, Business, Community, Adaptation
90% sign-up to FW service
100% sign-up to FW service
‘What if’ scenarios developed and posted on
Q4 2021
Q4 2025
Q4 2025
Environment Agency
Reading Borough Council
Community groups
Reducing fluvial flood
risk from River Thames
» Work in partnership with Risk Management Authorities and local
stakeholders to identify ways to reduce fluvial flood risk
» Gain support from all Reading communities on action to reduce flood
risk from the River Thames
» Seek funding through partnership funding and local grants.
Links: Education, Business, Community, Adaptation
Reading community makes decision about favoured
River Thames flood reduction option
Funds raised to deliver favoured option
Q2-3 2021
Environment Agency
Reading Borough Council
Local councillors
Thames Water
Local Resilience Forum
Community groups and
local businesses
Implement sustainable
urban drainage systems
» Explain the importance of SuDS and their practical application
» Find out what post scheme monitoring is happening and recommend
how this can be improved
Links: Nature, Adaptation, Transport
Share planning information
Monitoring, reporting and research
Reading Borough Council
Investigate the use of
green infrastructure to
reduce and slow down
storm water
» Investigate measures to slow the flow of storm water, eg by planting
and creating scrapes and swales
» Follow up on research by Reading University and the Landwise project
» Transfer learning to RBC Sustainable Design and Construction
(supplementary planning document)
Links: Nature, Transport, Adaptation, Business
Scope project brief and costs
Deliver results
Water theme group
Environment Agency
University of Reading
Improve the resilience
of the Kennet Meadows
» Develop a plan for the Kennet Meadows to make it a resilient wetland
» Make sure the plans preserve the need for the meadows to act as
flood plain
» Consider the drought risk and make sure the needs of the meadows
are considered in EA / TW drought plans. There will be a limit to their
protection… is it possible to develop a recovery plan early to try and
Links: Nature, Adaptation, Energy
Workshop to bring partners together and agree
Develop and share plan
Environment Agency
CEH (Wallingford)
University of Reading
Water theme group
Improve our flood risk
adaptation plans
» Improve our understanding of climate change adaptation thresholds
» Investigate the latest UK climate projections to find out what extreme
rainfall events we need to prepare for
» Check the developing EA guidance for fluvial flooding and develop our
own understanding of the changing flood risk for the River Thames
and River Kennet
» Develop our flood adaptation plans through to 2050 and beyond
Links: Education, Adaptation
Post information on revised future flood modelling,
as it is released
Deliver report on change in storm rainfall, and Thames and Kennet flood peaks
Q4 2024
Environment Agency
Reading Borough Council
Deliver report on change in storm rainfall, and Local interest groups
opportunities for Green
» Develop recommendations for green roofs, green walls and
landscaping for new build
» Explore opportunities for retrofitting homes and offices
» Develop advice for home owners on the benefits of breaking up hard
surfaces in driveways and gardens
Links: Transport, Nature, Community, Business
Create research proposals
Deliver results
University of Reading
Reading Borough Council
Environment Agency
Develop links to the
Thames Valley Local
Resilience Forum
» Investigate the limits of our emergency plans and explore what the
community of Reading can do to become more resilient
» Share the developing adaptation planning and vision for Reading with
the LRF to inform long term strategic decisions
» Share advice on being prepared for an incident including
“Thames Valley: Are you ready?” booklet and advice from the
Environment Agency
» Use resources from Business in the Community Business Resilience
Group to help businesses improve resilience
Links: Community, Business, Adaptation
Organise meeting with LRF
Public workshop/ event on resilience and
Environment Agency
Reading Borough Council
Thames Water
University of Reading
Local Resilience Forum

Areas where you can help

Take a look at the areas where you can make a positive change, today

Individuals | Eating & Drinking |

Eat more vegetables

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Organisations | Resources |

Optimise the use of water in your organisation

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Individuals | Eating & Drinking |

Cook from scratch

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Individuals | Eating & Drinking |

Reduce food waste

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