What’s the challenge

Eastern England is home to some of the UK’s most exciting businesses, most beautiful natural sites, most fertile agricultural land and most prestigious academic institutions – and it’s set to grow rapidly over the coming decades. Three of the UK’s five fastest-growing cities, the Thames Gateway and the M11, A11 and M1 growth corridors are all in the Eastern region – making a significant contribution to growth nationally.

But Eastern England has other attributes that make it uniquely vulnerable to water shortage and severe weather events. Nearly 30% of the land mass is below sea level, a huge proportion of the area is used for agricultural production, it’s the driest region in the UK and the East has one of the longest coastlines of any region.

With the increasing risk of drought and the surge in demand for food, energy and services that is likely in future, there is a very real risk that a lack of water could limit growth and development in the East. In the WRE region, which covers 31,000 square kilometres from the Humber in the North to Basildon in the South and Northampton in the West to the Eastern coast, is predicted to face a gap between supply and demand of up to 750 mega litres a day (ML/d) if the region carries managing water resources in the same way – the equivalent of 40 Olympic sized swimming pools daily.

Our History

    Water Resources East (WRE) was formed in 2014 by Anglian Water, with the aim to learn from international best practice on how to develop a more collaborative approach to water resource management planning in a region under significant pressure due to population growth and economic ambition, the need for enhanced environmental protection and climate change pressure.
    WRE’s focus since 2014 has been on multi-sector water resource planning. This is because Eastern England is characterised by its diversity of water use, including very significant non-public water supply users, particularly irrigated agriculture, food production and energy.

Our Strategy

    WRE has published a seven-part strategy for the region which seeks to:

    • Work with all water users in Eastern England to become as water efficient as they can be.
    • Retain and store more water in the landscape of the region.
    • Move water into and around the region, from areas of surplus to areas of deficit.
    • Link land and water management more effectively, increasing resilience and restoring and enhancing natural systems.
    • Understand where abstraction is having a detrimental impact on the environment, and develop options which restore and enhance it whilst ensuring sustainable economic development.
    • Explore alternative sources of water, including desalination and water re-use.
    • Contribute to low carbon strategies and plans to meet a net zero ambition.

Our Planning

    There was a step change in government policy and thinking in 2017 and 2018, culminating in the development of a National Framework for Water Resources, led by the Environment Agency.  As part of the National Framework, WRE formally became recognised as one of five regional planning groups across England in 2019, charged with the development and publication of Regional Plans.  These plans must seek to:

    • Increase the level of resilience for all water users in each region.
    • Ensure that water (either not enough or too much) is not a barrier to economic development.
    • Enhance the environment in each region.

    The first draft of the Regional Plan will be published in August 2021 for a period of consultation and consolidation with the other four regional plans.  In August 2022, the next draft of the Regional Plan will be published, coinciding with the publication of draft Water Resources Management Plans by water companies.

    Whilst (currently) the Regional Plan will not be a statutory document (unlike the WRMPs), it is expected that the Secretary of State will have powers to direct water companies to ensure that their WRMPs align fully with the Regional Plans.

How we work

    In June 2018, Water Resources East became an independent legal entity (a Company Limited by Guarantee), and a new multi-sector Board of Directors was formed comprising of representatives from five water companies; the NFU; the CLA; County Councils; environmental NGOs; a power company; The Broads Authority and the Association of Drainage Authorities. You can see our board members here.

    Water Resources East (WRE) Ltd. now operates as an inclusive, collaborative membership organisation, focused on the co-creation of the Regional Plan with key national, regional and local stakeholders, including regulators.  WRE is aiming to have over 100 different organisations actively engaged in the co-creation of the Regional Plan.


    The Water Resources East programme is pioneering a collaborative approach to water resource planning. Instead of the traditional approach, in which water companies look at water resource planning in their areas in isolation, WRE brings together regulators, companies, retailers and individuals in the water, agriculture, power and environmental sector. It looks at the needs and potential trade-offs across all these organisations and balances considerations of customers, agriculture, the economy, and the environment.

    WRE is rooted in the principle that there is a lack of sustainable and resilient water management.

    Management of future water resources is at the heart of strategic planning across the globe. Given our unique circumstances (a vulnerable region but with many of the tools necessary to adapt effectively) we have a rare opportunity to help lead, shape, and inform thinking and innovation in the UK and further afield. This is particularly true when considering the present and future pressures on water resources such as how best to manage demand from intensive agricultural production and food processing sectors.

    Despite these growing demand pressures we also need to find ways to reduce future levels of water abstraction to ensure we maintain a sustainable environment – meeting our legal responsibilities and supporting biodiversity. A healthy environment underpins the quality and quantity of water overall and is telling in how resilient supplies can be – the more we look after the environment the more it will look after us.


    In looking to create a more sustainable governance model for how water resources are managed, WRE works across sectors and collaboratively with all interested parties – those who use, have an impact on, and are affected by future water resource change.


    Collaborative investment:

    Managing the trade offs between industry sectors that will be able to balance the needs of all partners.

    Facilitating multi-sector investment: Ensuring water resources and their users are resilient to future challenges – especially for those who may struggle to raise capital.

    Encouraging collective ownership of the many future challenges faced by abstractors to deliver better economic outcomes for efficiently and at a lower environmental cost than would otherwise be possible.

    Efficient and affordable:

    Enhanced efficiency: Planning from a whole basin/catchment scale to ensure integrated and robust solutions, and more efficient planning, provision and use of infrastructure (both financially and in terms of water use/allocation).

    Affordability:  More affordable investment programmes and consequently lower bills for industry as well as public water supply customers. This in turn contributes to approval of tacking our demand management deficit head on.

    Sharing of ideas, expertise and best practice between sectors:

    The WRE programme will be jointly owned and delivered, talking into account the needs of all water users in the WRE with an interest in the management and use of water.

    Making environmental benefit a priority:

    An explicit emphasis on the water demands and protection of the environment has been brought to the forefront of planning – exploring ideas for green infrastructure, wetland restoration, and aquifer storage and recovery.


    Water Resources East will be central to delivering a reliable, sustainable and affordable system of water supply in the Eastern England to 2060 and beyond. It will produce an overarching working strategy and supporting action plans that will be resilient to the effects of future challenges.

    The WRE strategy and action plan is discussed, researched and agreed by the programme partners. This will deliver more efficient, robust, resilient and cost effective solutions than would be offered through traditional approaches.  For example, this may include reducing demand (by cutting leakage encouraging users to be more water efficient from a usage level) and increasing supply by building new reservoirs, recycling and reusing water, trading and desalination.

    This approach to managing water resources by combining both supply side and demand side management is called a twin-track approach and reducing demand will in turn help to address the supply deficits the region faces. Even with robust demand side management, more supply infrastructure will be needed; however this twin track approach is widely seen as being the lowest cost and most sustainable way to increase resilience, having already been supported by the National Infrastructure Commission and in Anglian Water’s WRMP for 2019.

    The technical work behind WRE uses innovative planning approaches such as Multi-Criteria Search and Robust Decision Making. These sit under the Decision Making under Uncertainty technique to fully understand the vulnerabilities in the region and take a broader approach to possible options to address these challenges. More information can be found here

    The multi-sectorial approach to water resources planning will deliver a significant range of benefits, including:

    • More efficient planning, provision, and use of infrastructure (both financially and in terms of water use and allocation)
    • More affordable investment programmes and consequently lower bills for customers
    • Sharing of ideas, expertise and best practice between sectors
    • Facilitating multi-sector investment approaches to ensure water resources are resilient to future challenges (particularly from those who otherwise would struggle to raise capital)
    • Encouraging collective ownership of the future challenges faced by abstractors