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

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.

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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?

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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”

Changing the status quo – will it reduce flood risk?

The EFRA Committee report into future flood prevention offers a challenging vision after the damp squib of the Government’s National Flood Resilience Review. It distils a wide range of evidence into a set of pertinent challenges. Headlines will inevitably focus on the proposal to dismantle and rebuild current flood management governance and delivery bodies but the report contains recommendations that have the potential to make a lasting impact on how we approach flood risk management in England.

Facilitating a whole catchment approach

The Committee recognises that we need an approach to catchment management that considers how to reduce flood risk alongside providing a resilient supply of clean water and a healthy environment. The risk is that, by removing the flood management function from the Environment Agency and the Lead Local Flood Authority role from county and unitary authorities, you take responsibility from bodies with a broad remit to consider a full range of environmental services to create new structures with a much narrower remit. How will this help us to achieve a joined up approach to catchment management that delivers the best outcomes for society in the most cost effective way?

Continue reading “Changing the status quo – will it reduce flood risk?”

The National Flood Resilience Review – does it live up to its name?

I felt a little underwhelmed after reading the Government’s ‘National Flood Resilience Review’, which was published on Thursday. National flood resilience is complicated and must consider not only how well communities are able to cope with extreme rainfall events but how quickly life can return to normal afterwards, what the impact is on businesses and whether the most vulnerable people receive the support they need.

Our nation cannot be truly resilient unless the environment is also able to cope, both with the impacts of flooding and the engineering we employ to manage it. There’s no inherent conflict there, the natural environment is one of the greatest assets we have in managing flood risk, but it does require a bit of careful planning.

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Wet wipes turn nasty when you flush them

Just a quick warning – what you’re about to read isn’t pleasant! Words like blockages, fat, sewage and poo are all coming up!

Most people associate flooding with extreme downpours, swelling rivers and bursting floodplains – but what if I told you that wet wipes could be the cause of a household flood? Surely those convenient, tiny white squares couldn’t be responsible for sewage filling your rooms and ruining your furniture – or could they?

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Soil is as important as air and water

We are dependent on healthy soils. Our soils are not only valuable for growing the food we eat; soil quality impacts on our ability to reduce climate change and can also be an important factor in flood management and the quality of our water. We need to take the health of our soils as importantly as we take our air and water quality.

A Parliamentary Committee has published its findings into the Government’s approach to tackling a national problem – that our soils are becoming increasingly unhealthy.

We need to take the health of our soils as importantly as we take our air and water quality. Yet 2.2 million tonnes of soil are eroded each year in the UK. It was estimated in 2011 that the cost of soil degradation in England and Wales is between £0.9 billion and £1.4 billion per year. Inappropriate soil management could cause a serious negative impact on soil fertility and the ability of some of our most agriculturally valuable land to continue current levels of productivity.

Continue reading “Soil is as important as air and water”