Environmental Priorities for Future Water Company Investment

As the water companies in England and Wales sit down to draft their future investment plans for 2020-2025 (PR19) they are doing so at a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty. We must make sure that the environment does not become a casualty of confusion and that the plans will deliver for people and nature. Our Blueprint for PR19, launched today, sets out the priorities for the environment for PR19.

The Blueprint for Water coalition of 18 environment NGOs has been talking to the water companies, regulators and with the Government over the last year to share our ideas and inform our thinking on the environmental priorities for PR19. Our Blueprint for PR19 sets out these priorities.

Why are we interested?

The water companies in England and Wales are major players in the environment. They invest over £8bn per year on behalf of their customers – all of us. It is essential they play their part if we want to see healthy rivers, clean beaches and coastal waters, safe drinking water, less waste, reduced flooding and thriving wildlife. We certainly have work to do – the 2016 State of Nature report[i] found that 13% of our freshwater and wetland species are currently at risk of extinction and only 20% of water bodies in England and Wales are currently achieving ‘good ecological status'[ii].

What do we want to see?

We passionately believe that a healthy natural environment is at the heart of a resilient and successful water industry – an industry that can meet the needs of current and future customers and deal with the challenges we face, such as climate change and population growth.

Blueprint for PR19 sets out four headline outcomes we want to see achieved:

  1. Improving catchment management from source to sea;
  2. Stopping pollution of our waters;
  3. Using water wisely whilst pricing it fairly; and
  4. Keeping our rivers flowing and wetlands wet.

For each of these four outcomes, we have identified a number of specific priorities we want to see addressed in the plans. It also suggests how we might measure success.

Over the next month, we will be publishing a series of blogs from Blueprint coalition members and from the water sector on each of these outcomes…watch this space!

What can you do?

We are urging water companies to adopt our Blueprint for PR19 and you can do your part too.

The water companies will be engaging with stakeholders and customers over the next year to ensure their plans align with customer interests and priorities. So, please take the opportunity to have your say and stand up for nature. Check your water company’s website to see how you can engage and feel free to share or use the Blueprint for PR19.

Finally, if you want to find out how your company is performing, and how it compares with other companies, then take a look at this great new website www.discoverwater.co.uk.

You can read a summary of our priorities or download the full Blueprint for PR19 publication.

Nathan Richardson, Senior Policy Officer, RSPB

 

Sources

[i] State of Nature 2016

[ii] River Basin Management Plans 2015

Water resilient cities and schools

Our urban environments face unprecedented challenges from climate change and increasing population. Our environment is becoming fragmented and our children are not enjoying the access to the natural environment they need. Making our cities greener and bluer can help our cities face these challenges and make their local places more resilient. One way we can do this is through sustainable drainage systems (SuDS).

Sustainable drainage systems can, if designed appropriately, benefit us in a wide variety of ways. For example, they reduce the risk of surface water flooding by slowing and reducing the flow of water, which runs off hard impermeable surfaces before it reaches the sewer. They can also improve the quality of that run off, removing polluting particles in the water as well as from the air, improving air quality. They can store carbon, provide habitat for wildlife and increase people’s health and well-being.

So why aren’t they everywhere?

Well, these benefits aren’t really seen as pounds and pence and they don’t accrue to any one person, business or even sector. They are societal benefits that diffuse across communities and as such there are limited drivers to install or retrofit SuDS into our urban spaces. There is also no current Government policy or driver around fitting SuDS into existing developments despite the many advantages.

We want to change this. There are real benefits to retrofitting SuDS. Today WWT and Business in the Community (BITC) launch a report that highlights these benefits and suggests one possible way forward.

WWT have been working with BITC and others, including Arup and MWH to produce this publication. Using the CIRIA Benefits of SuDS Tool (BeST) we indicate what the scale of a roll out of SuDS across Greater Manchester could look like.

We report that a roll out of SuDS across Greater Manchester should be cost beneficial and of good value. Societal and environmental benefits under our test case range from £4 million to around £50 million depending on the scale of the roll out. The greatest benefits accrue around mental well-being and education. However, important benefits, including flood risk reduction and water quality improvements, could not be quantified at this high level as they are so site dependent.

Together with BITC, we propose a pilot roll out of SuDS retrofit across Greater Manchester. A pilot would provide much-needed demonstration sites for schools, NHS sites and businesses in the North West. Societal and environmental benefits will accrue to communities and businesses across the roll out area. A pilot roll out would demonstrate the opportunities for flood risk mitigation in the urban environment and could aim to optimise other societal and environmental benefits. This should be led as a joint venture between government, the private and third sector, working through the Manchester Urban Pioneer. Alongside practical demonstration sites, the pilot should consider prospective sustainable funding options for such natural capital investment.

The Government promised to leave the environment in a better state than it found it. This doesn’t just mean the rural environment. Let’s make our urban spaces rich in bird song, buzzing bees, flowers, ponds and trees which everyone can enjoy. Let’s start making the connection and build SuDS for schools, for flood reduction, for healthier rivers, for communities, for cities, for the future.

Read WWT’s new report on SuDS.

Hannah Freeman, Senior Government Affairs Officer
Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Sustainable Shores – Are we doing enough to address habitat loss at our coast?

Across the UK, we have lost significant amounts of coastal habitat to development and coastal squeeze. So, are we doing enough to address this loss? A simple question you might think, but one that is vexing the RSPB and other environmental NGOs.

The UK National Ecosystem Assessment[i] estimated that the overall extent of coastal habitat in the UK has reduced by 16% since 1945. The figures are worse in England where we have lost 20% or around 13,000ha, excluding mudflat[ii].

The same report projects further coastal margin habitats loss, just due to coastal squeeze, at around 8% by 2060. Much of this habitat will be lost from our most important wildlife sites. The Environment Agency estimates that 1,200 hectares of internationally protected (i.e. SAC/SPA) intertidal habitat in England will be lost due to coastal squeeze by 2025, whilst in Wales the figure is 260 hectares[iii].

So what are we losing? As well as their biodiversity value our coastal habitats provide us with flood risk benefits, recreational assets, carbon sinks and crucial fish spawning areas.

Whilst the threat is frightening, we do have the solutions in our gift to address it if we chose to implement them. We have seen more than 70 managed realignment and regulated tidal exchange projects in the UK over the last 25 years[iv]. Projects such as Medmerry and Wallasea have redefined the art of the possible. In all around 2,500ha of coastal habitat has been created in the UK, including around 1,600ha of intertidal habitat. However, around half of this intertidal habitat was compensating for projects and plans that were causing habitat loss, leaving around 800ha of new intertidal habitat in 25 years. This compares to the 13,000ha reported lost in England alone since 1945. We certainly have the skills but do we have the will?

If we look at it another way, just implementing our current Shoreline Management Plans in England means realigning 10% of the coast by 2030 (15% by 2060) and would create around 6200ha of coastal habitat. This would more than offset the habitat losses that are predicted in the same time period. It would also save us between £180m and £300m in the long term when compared to maintaining the current hard defences. However, since 1990 we have only realigned around 1.5% of the coast[ii].. At this rate it is going to take us nearly 175 years to have achieved what we planned to do by 2030.

So, unfortunately I suspect the answer to my opening question is: NO, we aren’t doing enough. We aren’t keeping pace with the rate of habitat loss and we aren’t adapting our coastline fast enough to meet the challenges of the future.

What are we going to do about it?  Well, this will be one of the questions we will be looking to answer in a new project I am leading at the RSPB called Sustainable Shores, which will report in the Autumn. If you want to find out more get in touch at nathan.richardson@rspb.org.uk

The managed realignment project at Medmerry is the biggest on the open-coast in Europe (Image: Environment Agency)

Dr Nathan Richardson
Senior Policy Officer, RSPB

[i] UK National Ecosystem Assessment (2011)

[ii] Managing the Land in a Changing Climate. Adaptation Sub-Committee Progress Report 2013.

[iii] UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017: Evidence Report (2016)

[iv] ABPmer (2017)  UK Marine Habitat Creation Schemes. ABPmer White Paper No.R.2781.

Taking Action to Save Water

Do we need water saving week?

Water is often overlooked – we take it for granted. Consistently high quality drinking water supply, combined with tiny water bills compared to the cost of energy and the apparent abundance of water falling from the sky, mean that conserving water is not high on the agenda of many people in the UK. Despite this, around 70% of people do take some action to save water (Waterwise, 2016).

Water saving week 2017 commences on the 20th March. It is growing in popularity since it was initiated three years ago by Waterwise, one of Blueprint’s members.

 

Whilst we at Waterwise are dedicated full time to saving water and promoting water efficiency, water saving week is an opportunity for people from all walks of life to take on the challenge of saving water and become more aware of the need to save water.

Do we really need to save water in the UK?

Yes!

The UK has less available water per person than most other European countries. Increasingly erratic weather patterns, population increases and lifestyle changes have generated huge pressure on water supplies. As a result, it is more important than ever that we take care with how we use water. Taking positive action now can help to ensure that there is enough water to go round, for us, for businesses and for the environment. To compound this, because people perceive the UK as a wet area, there is not a water saving culture!

Water must also be conserved as part of wider efforts to protect the environment. Heating water in your home can account for up to 25% of your energy bill. Additionally, substantial amounts of energy is required for treating water and wastewater.

If saving water is important, why only do it for one week a year?

As much as we want to achieve our mission of people using water wisely, everywhere and everyday, we realise that at present, saving water may not be something people think about or recognise the need for, let alone have the motivation to do. Water saving week is a time to get the whole country talking about water efficiency.

Check out the website for more information, and to download packs with lots of useful resources for each day of the week.

Hazel Lewis
Specialist Project Developer, Waterwise

The importance of our Natural Infrastructure

Prioritising the identification, protection and restoration of Natural Infrastructure provides a significant opportunity to realise the Government’s ambition of us being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than which we found it.

In every parliament, the National Infrastructure Commission sets out their views about our long-term infrastructure needs in a National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA). Looking over a 30-year time horizon, they consider the demand and supply of infrastructure services and assets, such as roads or fibre optic cables, and make recommendations to government on how these needs are best met.

They consider major sectors including transport, energy, water & wastewater, and flood risk management – areas where projects could impact significantly upon the environment. What they don’t tend to consider is whether these sectors could in fact benefit from the services that our countryside and green spaces provide.

Continue reading “The importance of our Natural Infrastructure”

Bringing farmland ponds to the fore in agri-environment schemes

Successive agri-environment schemes have tended to place a relatively low emphasis on farmland ponds, but have we been ignoring one of the most important farmland habitats? In recent years, the UCL Pond Restoration Research Group has been studying the decline of ponds and in turn, how they can be best managed to benefit wildlife in UK farmland.

Before the Second World War parts of the UK were pond heaven! Cheshire, Lancashire, Norfolk, Suffolk and many other areas were pock-marked with ponds, often with 4-5 present in just one field. Ponds were used for watering livestock, cooling farm machinery and even as a supply of organic matter to the fields. Moreover, they were an important part of local culture, much loved by local people.

Continue reading “Bringing farmland ponds to the fore in agri-environment schemes”

SuDS and Sovereignty: Parliament pushes back on impermeable paving!

Thanks to Brexit, the question of Parliamentary sovereignty is much in mind: when can the Executive act without the consent of Parliament? The Supreme Court’s judgement that a Parliamentary vote is needed to trigger Article 50 is a check on executive power.

Behind the furore of Brexit, though, another balancing act has been taking place between Whitehall and Westminster that is having a real effect on people’s lives.

Continue reading “SuDS and Sovereignty: Parliament pushes back on impermeable paving!”

Natural Flood Management

While the winter we are currently experiencing has been relatively dry, none of us will soon forget the catastrophic weather that hit Britain just twelve months ago. A relentless series of storms battered the UK throughout December 2015, causing unprecedented rainfall in many areas and resulting in widespread flooding and massive damage to infrastructure, homes and businesses in affected regions, particularly the northeast of England.

Hard-engineering structures remain the go-to approach for managing flood risk, while dredging often rears its ugly head as an immediate response to severe flooding events. Dredging is a highly destructive activity for fish populations and as an angling organisation the Angling Trust feels very strongly that it has no place in modern flood risk management (see the Blueprint Dredging Up Trouble report). However, the situation is gradually changing –  is there now a more natural and cost-effective long-term solution? Natural Flood Risk Management (NFM) is an in-vogue expression used by government departments, local authorities and conservation NGOs alike, but what does it actually mean?

Continue reading “Natural Flood Management”

The Government responds to the EFRA Committee’s Flood Report

In November 2016, I wrote a blog about the EFRA Committee’s Report on Future Flood Prevention. On balance, the report was a useful contribution to the national debate about how we best prepare for floods. We have now seen the Government’s response to the report and it tells us little we didn’t already know.

There is a reassuring commitment to a catchment-based approach and recognition that tackling flood risk should not be considered in isolation from other environmental challenges such as improving water quality, recovering wildlife and sequestering carbon. This does not take away from the importance of natural flood management; rather it enables us to build the case for investment by factoring in a full range of benefits. The end result is that schemes to slow the flow and make space for water would be rolled out much more widely, benefitting communities where investment for the flood risk reduction alone may not have stacked up.

Continue reading “The Government responds to the EFRA Committee’s Flood Report”

New website for customers to see how their water companies are performing

Water companies protect both the environment and the public by providing high quality water and sanitation services – and it is now much easier to track and compare their performance.

The water sector has launched comparative data on Discover Water – an online dashboard where you can see how companies across England and Wales are performing across a range of metrics, including the Environment Agency’s annual Environmental Protection Assessments and bathing water quality results.

Continue reading “New website for customers to see how their water companies are performing”