An environment minister has defended the chief executive of the Environment Agency over accusations that he has hyped up the threat that England could run out of supplies.

In a speech to the Waterwise conference on Tuesday, Sir James Bevan warned that the country faced acute shortages within 25 years if steps are not taken to improve.

In a session held yesterday (20 March) to scrutinise the new water national policy statement (NPS), the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee chair Neil Parish MP criticised the way the former diplomat had presented his case.

The Devon MP said: “Using such provocative language is not the role of the Environment Agency.

“He can’t go out and make these statements unless he can back them up.”

But water minister Therese Coffey, who was giving evidence to the committee, defended the agency chief executive.

While saying she was “not responsible’ for Sir James’ choice of words, the minister said that the agency and Defra are “separate bodies”.

Sir James had been seeking to raise public awareness about the threat to water resources unless action is taken, she said: “If we don’t there will be pressure on our water.”

However she expressed confidence that the actions that the government is taking, including the production of the NPS to facilitate water infrastructure projects, will ward off the dire scenario presented by the EA chief.

She said: “We are not going to run out of water by 2050 because we are going to take action.”

During cross examination, Coffey cautioned MPs that transferring water around England is “not always as straightforward as it seems”, pointing to the potential risks posed in terms of allowing the spread of invasive species.

Adding that transfers will have to be “considered very carefully”, she said: “We can’t just assume that we can pump water from Cumbria to Essex as a solution.”

And she said that while the NPS would not “dictate” where new infrastructure will be located, the government is “not going to shy away from” the need for it.

Responding to pressure from the committee to improve management of water demand by making meters compulsory across England, she said “I don’t think we are there yet on everybody having a water meter. There’s still more we can do about making people aware about the challenges on using water.”