UK groundwater resource management

Water companies have recently submitted their draft 2019 Water Resources Management Plans. The data presented here is based on analysis of the final 2014 plans, and will be updated as more information from the new plans becomes available.

Planning and managing our water resources: a fine balance

Water is essential for life. The primary aim of water resource management is to ensure a stable supply of water to support increasing populations and economic growth. However, climate change, pollution and the needs of the environment can restrict water available for supply — balancing these pressures against a backdrop of population growth is key to effective water resource management.

Drinking waterr
Irrigation in Norfolk (© Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 2.0)

How do we manage water supplies in England and Wales?

Every five years, water companies in England and Wales produce a plan setting out how they'll manage water resources over the next 25 years. These water resource management plans (WRMPs) derive best estimates of future demand for water based on population projections and estimates of water consumption per person. In parallel, projections of how their current water supplies will be affected by future pressures such as climate change, pollution and reductions in supply to meet the needs of the aquatic environment are derived. The supply forecast and the demand forecast are then compared — if demand exceeds supply then a number of options need to be considered to either increase supply or lower demand. This might include demand management options such as water efficiency and leakage reduction schemes.

Supply-demand balance

On the supply side, this might include reinstating disused water supplies, drilling new boreholes or building new reservoirs. The options are assessed on their economic, social and environmental merits and a set of preferred options are selected. Water companies will then begin to implement these options to ensure security of supply over the next 25 years. The process is overseen by a range of regulators and the plans are available for public consultation.

Regulators include:

In addition to the WRMPs, water companies are also required to draw up a drought plan and an emergency plan.

The next water resources management plans, to be published in 2019, are being developed using more risk-based approaches. These will allow practitioners to better understand the current and future drought risks that they face, and create stronger links between WRMPs and drought plans. UKWIR has published guidance on risk-based planning, which is available for free download: WRMP 2019 methods — risk-based planning.

Water supply companies in England

Privatisation of water supply and sewerage functions in England and Wales took place in 1989, when ten water companies were created from the previous regional water authorities. Since then, the names and numbers of water companies providing these functions has varied as a result of changing ownership, mergers and new entrants to the market. There are now 23 water companies supplying domestic users (Ofwat). Some water companies now only deal with water treatment and supply; customers living in these areas have a separate company providing sewerage disposal. For example, Thames Water provides sewage facilities to 15 million customers, but 40 per cent of those customers receive water supply from other companies (Affinity Water, Anglian Water, Essex and Suffolk Water, Southern Water, South East Water or Sutton and East Surrey Water). The map below shows which water company supplies each area of England and Wales (reproduced with the kind permission of Ofwat, subject to the Open Government Licence).

Ofwat lists all of the water companies and provides their contact details. Water supply companies are not restricted to supplying specific areas of the country.

Map of water supply companies in England and Wales

Dee Valley Water Bristol Water Cholderton & District Water Bournemouth & West Hamphire Water Portsmouth Water South East Water Sutton & East Surrey Water South East Water South Staffs Cambridge Water Affinity Water Essex and Suffolk Affinity Water Affinity Water Essex and Suffolk Southern Water Southern Water Southern Water Southern Water Thames Water Thames Water Southern Water Southern Water Thames Water Thames Water Wessex Water Wessex Water South West Water Severn Trent Dwr Cymru United Utilities Dwr Cymru Northumbrian Water Hartlepool Water Yorkshire Water Anglian Water


  • AFW Affinity Water
  • BRL Bristol Water
  • CHL Cholderton & District Water
  • DVW Dee Valley Water
  • ESK Essex & Suffolk (part of Northumbrian Water)
  • HPL Hartlepool (part of Anglian Water)
  • PRT Portsmouth Water
  • SBW Bournemouth Water
  • SES Sutton & East Surrey Water
  • SEW South East Water
  • SSC South Staffs Water (eastern area is Cambridge Water)


  • Cambridge Water is now owned by South Staffordshire Plc, which also owns South Staffordshire Water, and is labelled SSC on the map.
  • Bournemouth and West Hampshire Water was renamed "Sembcorp Bournemouth Water Ltd" in 2011. That company was then purchased by Pennon Group Plc, the owners of South West Water, in April 2015 (press release). The Bournemouth Water name is being retained.

History of the water industry

The history of the water industry is described on the Ofwat water sector overview web page.

Regulatory framework

The regulatory framework within which public water supply companies operate is described on the Ofwat water sector overview web page.


Please contact Matthew Ascott for further information.