Ensuring water companies deliver for nature

Over the next 12-15 months water companies in England and Wales will be drawing up plans as part of PR19 (Periodic Review 2019) for their investments between 2020 to 2025. In the blog below, Nathan Richardson sets out why it is important to influence the content of these plans so that they deliver for nature.

 Why are we engaging with water companies?

The water companies in England and Wales have invested £130 billion in environmental management over the last 25 years with a further £42 billion to be spent by 2020. Alongside the provision of safe drinking water, this investment has delivered significant improvements in river and bathing water quality and is helping address the impacts of abstraction on some of most important wildlife sites.

Over the last decade the Blueprint for Water coalition has been successful in influencing much of this investment to ensure that it is delivering for people and for nature. A great example is our successful lobbying for the inclusion of catchment management approaches in plans so that environmental problems can be addressed at source, rather than just end of pipe.

However, we know there are still major challenges ahead. The recent State of Nature (2016) report found 13% of our freshwater species are at risk of extinction. Less than 20% of our water bodies are at good ecological status. We are still dealing with over-abstraction and face an increasing risk of drought. The costs of dealing with nutrient and pesticide pollution from farming are still largely falling on the water industry and its customers and we face the risk that Brexit will be seen as an opportunity to unpick the water environmental legislation that has been the driving force behind progress to date. So we need a campaign on PR19.

So what is Blueprint for Water doing about PR19?

Our PR19 campaign is being led by an NGO group including RSPB, WWF, WWT, Angling Trust, the Rivers Trusts, Marine Conservation Society, the Wildlife Trusts, Salmon and Trout Conservation UK and Waterwise, with an open door for other organisations to get involved.

Together we have identified a series of priorities that we want to see reflected in the forthcoming plans. These address areas such as water resources and over-abstraction, ecosystem resilience, water efficiency and affordability, catchment management and environmental pollution. A summary is provided in Table 1 below.

We have shared our early thoughts with Defra, Welsh Government, OFWAT, Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and Natural England and have started talking to the companies to get their perspective and ideas. This engagement will continue through the winter during which time we will also be responding to consultations on PR19 from government and OFWAT. In Spring 2017 we will formally launch our PR19 Blueprint for Water. A copy of what was produced last time can be found here.

We have also been considering how our priorities can be translated through as measurable outcomes for the companies for PR19. Investment is increasingly focussed around delivery against set outcomes and so one of our key aims for PR19 is to ensure that these outcomes will deliver for nature: that it is embedded.

For PR19 companies will need to be able to demonstrate how their plans align with the preferences and priorities of their customers and stakeholders. With this in mind we have identified where we have a local voice on water company stakeholder and customer panels so that we can join up our campaign nationally and locally. We are also considering how we can encourage our members and supporters to engage more with the planning process.

How you can help?

If you want to get involved with the campaign or want to know who from the Blueprint for Water coalition is working with your local company then get in touch.

Your local water company will shortly be consulting customers and stakeholders on its plans. Make sure you take the opportunity to respond to help shape what they do. Table 1 below should provide some ideas of the sort of things we are looking for.

Dr Nathan Richardson is a Senior Water Policy Officer at RSPB. Nathan.richardson@rspb.org.uk

Table 1 Our draft Blueprint for Water Priorities for PR19

Outcome A – Keep our rivers flowing and wetlands wet

A1. Plans commit to finishing the Restoring Sustainable Abstraction programme and to addressing company abstraction where it is preventing achievement of WFD GES or poses a risk of deterioration. Companies commit to rolling out the Abstraction Incentive Mechanism (AIM) around more sensitive sources.

A2. Plans commit to working with regulators and other abstractors to successfully embed abstraction reform, including on abstraction controls that protect the environment.

A3. Plans consider long term resilience and for the inclusion of the resilience of ecosystems in decision making. Plans include actions to increase the resilience of the natural environment that companies rely on to operate.

A4. Plans commit to bulk water transfers only being used where they are environmentally acceptable; where measures have been put in place to prevent the spread of invasive non native species and where transfers help achieve GES.

Outcome B – Use water wisely and price water fairly

B1. Plans fully consider reducing demand (such as promoting water efficiency, increasing metering, smart tariffs/ incentives and reducing leakage) as well as increasing supplies. Water resource options appraisals reflect the value/natural capital of water left in the environment

B2. Plans result in no overall increase in the amount of water abstracted from rivers and groundwater despite increases in population and climate change

B3. Plans include extending the availability and promotion of social tariffs to protect vulnerable users

B4. Plans commit to developing and using reward tariffs to incentivise metered customers to reduce consumption during dry weather periods and to developing community-wide incentive schemes to encourage people living and working there to reduce the volume of water supplied to their area during dry weather periods.

Outcome C – Protect and restore catchments from source to sea

C1. Plans extend catchment management and commit to working with partners, sharing best practice and valuing the benefits to water quality, water resources, flood risk, carbon, biodiversity and recreation

C2. Plans commit to advocating the use of regulatory measures where voluntary measures are insufficient to protect water sources and customer interests from pollution (e.g. water protection zones)

C3. Plans commit to assessing the company’s natural capital with the intent to grow it and to integrate it into decision making

C4. Plans commit to delivery of the water company contribution to getting 75% of water bodies to WFD GES by 2027

Outcome D – Stop pollution of our waters

D1. Plans include for the preparation of long term strategic wastewater plans to ensure sewerage and treatment systems are sufficient to prevent pollution incidents, CSO spills and flooding in the context of population growth and climate change

D2. Plans target zero pollution incidents and 100% self-reporting of incidents

D3. Plans include for ongoing monitoring of the presence and treatability of emerging pollutants (pesticides, pharmaceuticals, microplastics) using results to inform appropriate management (product and usage controls, upgraded treatment, including natural solutions)

D4. Plans include for significantly extending the use of SUDs (new and retrofit) to reduce flooding and provide biodiversity, recreation and water quality benefits.