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A blueprint for future water resources

The Government has recently set out its proposals for a National Policy Statement (NPS) for water resources. The statement will underline the criteria for large-scale nationally important water resources schemes (aka large reservoirs, transfer pipes and desalination plants) to undergo a facilitated planning process to enable delivery. While for-thought is necessary, any schemes must add value for people and nature.

April 2018

We understand that certain water companies must look towards large-scale water supply options over the next 50 years to meet water demand. However, such schemes can adversely impact river flows and water levels; transfer invasive non-native species; require high energy use; result in morphological changes to watercourses and surrounding land and cause significant changes in water quality. At the same time, investing in a sensitively designed scheme, which maximises benefits for people and wildlife, will help support a more resilient natural environment and reduce the risk of needing to take more water from the environment than it can sustain.

We welcome Government proposals to maintain a common threshold for all schemes – proposed to be 80Ml deployable output per day. However, we await further details around the principles of a twin-track approach alongside demand management and measures to ensure environmental protection and enhancement. The current Water Resources Management Plan (WRMP) process does not adequately ensure ambition in these areas. We would challenge whether what is essentially a locally driven, least cost, single sector process is fit for purpose when it comes to identifying and justifying the need for nationally significant infrastructure.

Regional scale water resource planning initiatives such as Water Resources East (WRE) and Water Resources South East (WRSE) are showing us that you can get different solutions when a regional perspective or multi-sector approach is taken, compared to looking from an individual water company perspective. Whilst the NPS is right to emphasise the importance of individual water company WRMPs, it should also recognise the need for planning at the regional and even national scale, potentially over-riding individual water company interests.

Twin-track approach
An ambitious approach to reducing our demand for water is needed to reduce our impact on the environment. This is not consistently delivered through the WRMP process. If the Government is keen for a truly twin-track approach which delivers significant demand management measures, the NPS must be stronger in detailing what this means.

We propose a number of parameters should be developed to ensure ambitious demand management and leakage options are being set alongside these national infrastructure projects. This should include a wider roll out of compulsory metering which is not limited to water scarce areas. This is key in considering water as a national resource and understanding if large-scale water transfers across areas are to increase.

Environmental protection and enhancement
Guidance on how this principle will be assessed is critical to avoid bias towards easy benefits at the risk of “cancelling out” significant dis-benefits. We propose criteria are specified within the NPS to ensure that this principle is met. Such criteria should include but is not limited to a requirement to:
  • Minimise the spread and transfer of invasive non-native species as an important factor in protecting the environment
  • Address water quality – measured as biologically healthy water, not just drinking water quality
  • Highlight how the scheme fits within a catchment-based, holistic approach
  • Minimise the impact on designated sites and protected species
  • Restore more natural hydrological flow and wetland ecology
  • Contribute to maintaining and enhancing natural capital
  • Highlight opportunities taken to create and restore habitat
  • Deliver multiple benefits for people and nature.
We welcome continued engagement with Government around the development of the NPS and hope that these factors can be adequately incorporated.

Hannah Freeman

Senior Government Affairs Officer at Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Find WWT on twitter: @WWTWorldwide

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.