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Potential impact of Climate change on the Island's Water supply 3 August 2006

Reports on the effects on the Island’s climate spanning the next 25 years, 50 years and 75 years are all predicting increases in average temperatures throughout the year, increases in average winter rainfall and reductions in average summer rainfall. These changes will inevitably have an effect on the Island’s water supply and the Water Authority has been studying these aspects closely in recent months as part of its long term planning process.

As part of a scoping study looking at “Climate Change Impacts” on the Isle of Man, carried out by Acclimatise on behalf of DoLGE, a technical report on “Climate Change and Water Resources” has been prepared by ICARUS (the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units). This shows the potential effects of future climate change on runoff across the Island. The findings, whilst they are very preliminary in nature, are potentially of major future significance to the Water Authority.

The indications are that whilst the annual average runoff in the catchment areas will change only marginally over the next 50 to 75 years the summer and autumn runoff will be much reduced and the winter and spring runoff will increase. This is likely to reduce the reliable yield available from the Authority’s existing reservoirs with the effects starting to become significant in the next 15 to 20 years.

The Water Authority’s average and peak week demand projections, which were derived in 2000 as the result of detailed studies, and on which the designs of the new Sulby and Douglas Water Treatment Works were based, remain consistent with the latest research on climate change and demand, and they are considered conservative. The Authority’s most recent estimates of the 100 year return period drought yield available from its reservoirs still indicate a surplus of total available resource over demand over at least the next 20 years, but the yield estimates are all based on historic rainfall records starting in 1920 and they do not take into account the reductions in summer and autumn runoff which are likely to result from current and future climate change. The past is no longer a reliable guide to the future. If the latest climate science predictions in relation to reduced summer and autumn runoff are valid, then the Water Authority’s currently estimated resource surplus may be eroded much sooner than previously assumed. In the short term - the Authority will need to keep under review the top 4 metre deep storage allowance at Sulby Reservoir which is used for hydro electric power generation and to negotiate a reduction in this when appropriate. In the longer term – and perhaps as early as the 2020’s – the Water Authority may have to start considering measures to temper growth in demand, for example by introducing water conservation measures, embarking on domestic metering, and/or increasing raw water storage - for example by raising an existing dam or building a new dam.

Patrick Heaton-Armstrong, Chief Executive, “There is now compelling evidence that our climate is changing, and that most of the warming we have seen over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities. Continuing climate change is now regarded as inevitable, regardless of what is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade.

The study has emphasised the importance of progressing with the installation of new stream flow gauging stations and additional rain gauge stations to enable the Authority to develop catchment models in which it can place far greater confidence than those previously developed. This will then enable the Authority to further refine its yield estimates based on existing long period rainfall records, to model and predict with improved certainty the future effects of climate change and to monitor actual trends in rainfall and runoff as they develop.

The Authority will continue to monitor developments and propose appropriate solutions. The continued message is “Use Water Wisely”, it is a precious resource and although replenished from time to time it should not be squandered.”

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