Making the case for catchment management

The water industry, perhaps more than any other sector, can be highly impacted by what happens across the catchments in which companies operate. Diffuse water pollution from agriculture, for example, can pollute raw drinking water sources and necessitate costly treatment that uses energy and chemicals, whilst pollutants from multiple sources limit the capacity of waterways to accept discharges from waste water treatment works.

Our freshwater ecosystems require sufficient water to remain healthy, but abstraction for public supply, industry and irrigation for agriculture mean that water scarcity is prevalent in parts of the country, with climate change and population growth likely to exacerbate the problem. A collaborative approach is needed involving all sectors, in order to build resilience and embed a more sustainable approach to managing our water resources.

Water companies are already moving away from the historic focus on managing their own land and infrastructure, as the benefits of influencing management of water across the catchment are increasingly being recognised.

  • Schemes like South West Water’s Upstream Thinking and United Utilities’ (UU) SCaMP have led the way; UU’s scheme saw thousands of hectares of upland habitat restored, drainage channels blocked, and livestock numbers cut, bringing 98% of the SSSIs into favourable condition and realising improvements in water quality through reductions in colour, suspended solids and a reduced risk of cryptosporidium.
  • Severn Trent’s current Environmental Protection Scheme, STEPS, sees landowners being paid based not on what they do on their land, but on the actual water quality benefits delivered.
  • Wessex Water is using ‘reverse auctions’ to allow farmers to bid for funding to establish cover crops, preventing soil runoff over winter and reducing nutrient inputs into the river system, far more cost effectively than could be done by the company through other means.
  • Where Catchment Partnerships have played a role in these schemes; the value of this collaboration is notable (see pg5).

The 2019 Price Review (PR19) presents an opportunity to build upon all of this delivery. The case for catchment management to protect or improve water quality is clear, illustrated by the above examples and many others. The knock-on benefits are also potentially considerable; improved landowner relations and wider land management practices, biodiversity gains and reduced flood risk. The scope to extend catchment management to deliver water resources outcomes is also something that warrants much greater consideration. Many of the natural solutions to addressing flood risk that slow the movement of water through a catchment and reduce rapid runoff also help to augment baseflow in rivers during times of drought. Their low cost and high natural capital delivery compared to built infrastructure projects indicates a potential for much more widespread uptake of such approaches.

These interventions all require engagement with landowners, farmers, fisheries, and communities, making the potential value of Catchment Partnerships in this delivery clear. The Rivers Trusts, Wildlife Trusts, Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers, landowner or fisheries associations and others involved in the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) already have strong relationships with the very people that need to be engaged if such schemes are to be successfully delivered and maintained. The partnerships are also well placed to undertake biodiversity monitoring, scheme promotion and other aspects of delivery that may not be the traditional preserve of water companies.

The value of these partnerships is certainly something that not all companies have fully tapped in to, and PR19 should provide the catalyst for this to change. Indeed, the Catchment Based Approach, established to protect and enhance our water environment, should be increasingly seen by water companies as a key means of protecting the very resources upon which their businesses depend.

Ali Morse
Water Policy & Catchment Technical Specialist, The Wildlife Trusts

and

Rob Collins
Head of Policy and Science, The Rivers Trust

Unique Opportunity to Tackle Deepseated Failures in Water Management

Sometimes you read a statistic and have to read it again to ensure you read it right the first time.  Half of our freshwater wildlife species are in decline. That’s right: half of our freshwater wildlife species are in decline. Furthermore, 13% are at risk of extinction. Our rivers and lakes are in real trouble and we need to act urgently.

Hold on, I hear you say, I’m sure I read somewhere that our rivers are cleaner now than any time since the industrial revolution? It’s true that we have made progress in some areas: industrial and sewage pollution have been greatly reduced and many urban rivers are coming back to life.

However, these gains are set against an overall pattern of decline that was brought into sharp relief this week as I came to understand that the number of rivers achieving ‘Good Ecological Status’ in England has dropped from 17% to 14%. As long as we remain signed up to the Water Framework Directive (part of European Union legislation), we are under a legal obligation to get that figure to 75% by 2027. We haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of doing so unless we get our act together and start thinking really differently about the way that we manage water in this country.

This week, I chaired a Blueprint for Water meeting of Chief Executives of water companies, Cathryn Ross, the CEO of Ofwat, officials from the Environment Agency and Natural England and colleagues from the 18 Blueprint member organisations. The meeting launched our new campaign, Blueprint for PR19 (Price Review 2019). If you love healthy water environments, the Price Review process is a really important moment: it is when water companies set out their plans for the next 5 years (from 2019 onwards) and negotiate with Ofwat, the industry regulator, about how much they can charge customers, while also making a contribution to the objectives set by the Government’s environmental agencies.

Given that the companies will spend billions of pounds of our money in that period, which dwarfs the amount spent by government, it’s vital that we ensure those plans help to address the deep-seated failures in our water management system.

The meeting was held under Chatham House rules, so I won’t report what individuals said, but – and here’s the positive bit – there was a surprising and very welcome consensus in the room.  The highlights for me were as follows:

  • We need to take an innovative approach and scale up the things that have been shown to work at a local or regional level, such as universal metering, sustainable urban drainage systems and working with farmers to reduce pollution of rivers and water supplies.
  • The behaviour of people is a really important factor that we need to change. Millions of people put fat from frying pans, sanitary products and nappies down drains and toilets, which cause blockages in the system and sewage overflows. People also waste water and our per capita use puts us to shame compared to other European countries, which have more plentiful supplies.
  • The catchment based approach to planning action is vital for the successful management of water and we should work on a long term basis taking into account climate change, population growth and substantial house building programmes, which will put further stress on the system.

It was clear to me that everyone needs to wake up to the real crisis facing our water environment and the supplies on which our economy and lives depend. This isn’t something we can shrug about and get on with our lives any longer. Business as usual is not good enough.

I welcome the water companies’ commitment to addressing the real issues that were clear at the meeting. As citizens and bill payers, we need to press politicians and regulators to make the necessary decisions to support this and to allow them to invest in innovation and catchment management.

We are currently stumbling into another drought in much of the country, the one we had in 2012 that for a while endangered the success of the Olympics long having dropped off the political radar after several floods that cost the country billions. Meanwhile, half of our freshwater species, including many fish, continue to decline towards extinction, and we are all the poorer for that. The Angling Trust, backed by our membership and in partnership with colleagues in Blueprint organisations, will continue to make the case for fundamental reform of water management.

Please help by supporting us, sharing this blog, finding out how to use water and wastewater sensibly, and mentioning water to any politicians who knock on your door in the coming weeks.

Mark Lloyd
Chief Executive, Angling Trust and Fish Legal

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.

Continue reading “The importance of our Natural Infrastructure”

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”

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.

Continue reading “Ensuring water companies deliver for nature”

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?”

Planning for Drought?

Report Cover
Published September 2016

Triggered by increasing concerns over the resilience of our water supply system to future drought the Water Resources Long-term Planning Framework was published by Water UK in September 2016. It highlights how resilience to drought is diminishing due to climate change, population growth and the need to address unsustainable abstraction.

Shortfalls in the order of more than 800Ml/d are predicted in the South-East by 2040 under even relatively moderate future scenarios (see Figure 1).  To put this in context, this shortfall is equivalent to the daily water consumption of around 5 million people with the economic cost of a single day of lost supply across England and Wales estimated at £1.3 billion. In response the report puts forward potential solutions involving a mix of more demand management, new and bigger reservoirs, effluent reuse and water transfers (see Figure 2).

So what are the top issues emerging from this groundbreaking study?

1.      Recognising the problem – and acting on it

We are facing an increasing risk of drought which will impact on the natural environment.  The recent State of Nature (2016) report  found 13% of our freshwater species are already at risk of extinction with hydrological change identified as the 5th largest driver for change across all species assessed.  More frequent and more severe droughts, as predicted by the study, will only exacerbate this threat to nature. Government, regulators, water companies and the environmental sector need to ensure that the response is not to just take more and more water from the natural environment.

Figure 1 Potential deficits by 2040 and 2065 under the portfolios:

maps

2. Demand management – doing more

It is clear from the report that water companies need to raise their game on demand management and that they need to do it sooner rather than later. Demand management can be a win : win as not only does it improve resilience to drought it also reduces the amount of water we need to abstract from the environment at all times.

 We will be promoting greater action on demand management in the current round of Water Resource Management Planning and company business planning for 2020-2025 (PR19). This means water companies going further and faster than currently planned with leakage reduction and metering; developing and using smart tariffs and incentives to encourage less water use and retrofitting water efficiency measures to existing homes. It also means joining us in calling for planning policies and building regulations that lead to far greater water efficiency being built into new properties, particularly in vulnerable areas.

3. New supply side solutions – difficult choices ahead

Even with enhanced demand management, new supply side solutions such as water transfers between regions and new and bigger reservoirs are predicted to be needed by 2040. They will have environmental impacts both positive and negative. Unfortunately the report does not go into any detail on these impacts being primarily a hydrological and economic analysis.  This is a major gap that needs to be addressed at a comparable national scale.

 We do not yet have the information necessary to evaluate options such as new in-catchment storage, water transfers and desalination. What we need to see is thorough environmental assessment of alternative strategic options at national, regional and company scales and evidence that environmental considerations are being properly factored into the options analysis and decision making processes.

Figure 2 Potential strategic solutions put forward in the study:

map

4. WFD no-deterioration risk – a hidden issue

The report exposes the potential scale of a hitherto relatively unknown issue around currently unused “paper” water that companies have on their licenses and have been relying on in their calculations of deployable output (i.e. how much water they can put into supply).  If the use of this paper water could result in deterioration in Water Framework Directive (WFD) status then all or some of it will need to be removed due to the WFD “no-deterioration” principle. This poses a major issue which could amount to several 100Ml/d across companies in water scarce areas such as Severn Trent, Thames, Southern and Anglian.

 This ”paper” water has not yet been used so assessing the risk of deterioration is technically very challenging. We may well see the regulators and companies looking for a way forward, for example linking its use to enhanced monitoring with claw back if impacts emerge.  However, in all water bodies that companies rely on for abstraction there is a great opportunity for the environmental sector and companies to work together to increase their natural resilience to low flows and to abstraction through techniques such as river restoration and habitat enhancement. As the report makes clear “a resilient natural environment forms the basis for sustainable water supplies”.

We should welcome this ground breaking report. It provides a wake-up call, bringing to our attention the increasing water supply risks we face in the future. It makes a useful contribution to the discussion around the ways we can address those risks and ensure a resilient future.  However, the lack of any substantive consideration of the environmental impact of future droughts, or of the positive and negative impacts of potential solutions, is a significant gap which needs to be addressed at national, regional and company scales.

Dr Nathan Richardson, Senior Policy Officer, RSPB
nathan.richardson@rspb.org.uk
Tel. 01767 693447

21st Century Drainage Programme – Protecting health, supporting communities, securing the environment now and for the future

Few of us think about what happens after we flush the loo or pull the plug in the sink or bath, and yet the sewerage system is essential to the nation’s physical and economic health. Billions of pounds have been invested in ensuring that this water is taken away, cleaned and returned to the environment to support our unique and irreplaceable ecosystems and wildlife – although there is still much to do.

Moreover, a changing climate, growth in population and other changes to our society mean that we are going to have to start thinking differently about how we ensure our sewerage network is efficient, affordable and supports the environment and the economy in the decades to come.

Continue reading “21st Century Drainage Programme – Protecting health, supporting communities, securing the environment now and for the future”