The Environment Agency has been looking at the actions that should be taken as part of water company drought plans to preserve water supplies as well as reviewing future regulation and charging.
At the Environment Agency, our goal is to create a better place for people and wildlife. We are often balancing opposing needs, so it is interesting and complex – and there is a lot we can achieve together.
A big issue we have been addressing over the last year, particularly in the south east of England, is prolonged dry weather. As I write this, we are starting 2018 with some groundwaters and reservoirs lower than normal for the time of year. In early January 2018, I met journalists, along with Water UK, to tell them that the south east needs above-average rainfall in the coming months. When this 100th edition of Water and Sewage Journal is published, we will know whether this replenishment has started to happen. Or we will know that managing water resources and explaining the issue to the public is likely to be a big theme for us all this year.
Over the last few decades, the Environment Agency has worked on countless joint projects with the water sector and the tangible improvements we have seen to the water environment over that time are a result of this effort and progress. A notable success is the dramatic improvement to bathing water quality which has benefited coastal communities, visitors and tourism. Our English coastlines have the cleanest bathing waters since records began, with 98.3 per cent passing tests last year, and the sector has played a leading role in delivering this.
While we have come a long way, there is much more to do to improve water quality. We are not complacent; in fact, we are ambitious about how healthy the natural environment can be. People value clean beaches to enjoy and healthy rivers that support wildlife. There is ongoing work to maintain water quality and improve it further – water company commitment to this goal will always be essential.
We want to see water companies do more to reduce serious pollution incidents and continue to implement improvements that protect and improve water quality.
Future regulation will be a key theme this year. While developing proposals to review our charging system we have been engaging with trade associations over the last year and input has been really valuable. The proposed changes will be a simplification and modernisation to a system which has not changed substantially since 1992. Businesses will pay for the services they use, leading to a financially sustainable and better service, and long-term improvements to the environment.
Agreeing the right strategy and commitment for PR19 is a priority for me and for the Environment Agency. A huge amount is at stake and great benefits can be delivered. The future quality of the environment, resilience to drought and flood risk, and customer satisfaction with the industry as a whole, will be heavily influenced by water company investment in 2020-2025.
As water companies develop their business plans, we are asking them to achieve better outcomes by working with others to align programmes, funding and action on the ground. We are also asking companies to show ambition in delivering the Water Industry National Environment Programme, encouraging greater collaboration and partnership working.
The continued focus on resilience is important for flood protection, managing droughts and reducing pollution incidents. We have seen some innovative projects from water companies and welcome Ofwat’s focus on developing this further.
Our renewed commitment to the water sector this year is that we will be a fair but robust regulator. We will highlight your successes, state openly when improvements are needed and help the public value the water you provide.
This article first appeared as the Foreword to the 100th edition of Water & Sewerage Journal published in February 2018.