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Making healthy waters become ‘business as usual’

New scorecards, analysing how successful water company plans for the next five years are likely to be in protecting and improving the environment, have been published today by Blueprint for Water.

January 2019

Today we publish our analysis of water company business plans, highlighting how those business plans reflect our Blueprint for PR19 asks. As we highlight in the scorecard, we are very pleased to see a step change in environmental ambition between the potential investment in the environment for the next five years compared with the last five. However there is significant variation across water companies and more that can be done in certain areas. A healthy environment must be seen by water companies as vital to business as usual. We look forward to working with water companies to ensure their ambitions are delivered and that and we continue to see environmental ambition increase over the coming years.

The areas that stand out for me are:

• The substantial commitment water companies have made to meet their water framework requirements under their proposed environment programmes. As such we have seen nearly all water companies receive a good rating under this ask.

• The commitment of water companies to developing their first ever drainage and waste water management plans. This is the first stage to better understanding strategic, long-term risks to water company drainage assets from challenges such as climate change. We hope these plans will lead to increased investment in natural solutions such as sustainable drainage systems and significantly reduce pollution events and combined sewer over flows further.

• A wide adoption of catchment management projects across water companies dealing with environmental problems at source rather than end of pipe. Regulators have advised water companies to embed catchment management as business as usual and we welcome this approach. This is highlighted in the results and the fact that there are 350 catchment management projects proposed within the business plans.

There are also a number of areas where we believe water companies have significant room for improvement.

• Water companies must do more to help their customers to cut water use. We saw all water companies commit to a 15% reduction in leakage, but this was only because of Government pressure to do so. There is still significant reluctance amongst water companies to drive down per capita consumption without similar Government pressure. This is why we awarded Southern Water a blue star for their Target 100 initiative. We believe it is feasible for all water companies to reduce water consumption to a maximum average of 100 litres per person per day. In addition we want to see a greater range of techniques to incentivise customers to reduce their water consumption, particularly during times and in locations where the environment is most sensitive, for example in periods of drought.

• By PR24, we expect all companies to be factoring the value of natural capital into their planning and decision making.

• Companies should have a much stronger, more public voice on policy issues to better represent the interests of their customers and the environment they depend on to operate.

• Despite commitments around Drainage and Waste Water Management Plans, current commitments to reduce severe pollution events to zero, self-report sewage incidents and monitor all combined sewer overflows is disappointing. Although combined sewer overflows are allowed they nevertheless allow untreated sewage to enter our waters more than 20,000 times a year. More could and should be done to reduce the volumes and frequencies with which these occur.

This is a high level review and we acknowledge the huge amount of detail and hard work water companies have put into developing their business plans and factoring the role they play in managing our water environment into their decision making. We also welcome the engagement we’ve had from water companies over the whole plan process, especially those which have done their best to incorporate our asks into their commitments.

Customers have made it clear that the environment is important and we hope that the commitments made in the business plans are clearly reflected into action over the next five years and further enhanced going forward into investment for the next price review process.

Hannah Freeman, Chair of Blueprint for Water and Senior Government Affairs Office at Wildfowl & Wetland Trust

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