Collaborative water sector study on the impact of COVID on water use

Project Description

The COVID policies and measures put into place have had a profound impact on society and day to day life. People spent more time at home and less time in their workplaces. Travel within and outside of the UK reduced. This has changed the way people use water. The location, types and drivers of water use has changed.

Between March and October 2020, water use in homes increased by between 9% and 13%. Water use in commercial properties and workplaces has decreased. Overall, the total demand has gone up by an estimate of 2.6%. This pattern is consistent, but the amount varies between regions.

The Environment Agency and water companies worked with us at Artesia to inform short term and long-term planning of water resources, as well as understanding the impacts on targets across these different water use types. The study used a range of water demand data covering the COVID period up to the end of October 2020. Timeseries modelling and prediction has enabled us to disentangle COVID impacts on consumption from the normal weather variations.

Patterns of water use have changed in the home. We now see flatter usage patterns throughout the day, with fewer properties following the regimented behaviour we normally observe. People have more time to invest in water using activities throughout the day. Behaviours such as showering later in the day, cooking and cleaning activities are less time constrained.

The commercial sector saw some large reductions in water use. The hotel and restaurant sector saw water use reduce by about 70%. Sports and recreation centres reduced about 60%, and the education sector was impacted by school closures. Food production, utilities and health and social work were less impacted.

Urban centres, such as London, saw a large reduction in commercial use as commuting hugely reduced. Furlough and lack of office working led people to vacate smaller city flats to more rural or suburban properties, sometimes cohabiting in larger groups with family.  Water use is being relocated, especially in the areas surrounding London and the M4 corridor, where much higher net impacts are seen.

Using the historic data, we were able to predict how water use will change as we emerge from the pandemic, and potentially discover a new normal lifestyle. Water companies and the Environment Agency need to plan for the new normal, ensuring that demand can be met in all areas. The importance of resilience has been heightened, the warning signs of warm weather with many people at home shows the ability of behavioural and societal change to disrupt previously well understood and well managed precious resources.

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