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Regional Water Resources Planning - why it’s important & what we want to see

Ali Morse, Chair of Blueprint for Water and Water Policy Manager at The Wildlife Trusts, Nathan Richardson, Head of Policy at Waterwise, and Ellie Ward, Policy and Information Coordinator at Link, set out Blueprint for Water's top asks for the Regional Water Resources Plans, and explain why regional water resources management is so important for people and nature.

August 2021

In July 2021, Blueprint for Water published our ‘Top 10 Asks’ for the Regional Water Resources Plans, setting out the ambition we think is required for the plans to meaningfully deliver for our freshwater environment.

Our Top 10 Asks are below - but before you skip to them, what is Regional Water Resource Planning, and why is it so important?

Regional water resources management: a summary

There are five regional water resources groups in England, made up of the 17 English water companies, and other water users. They are Water Resources North, Water Resources West, Water Resources East, Water Resources South East, and West Country Water Resources. Each group brings together the water companies operating in that region, key water users, and other stakeholders.

A map of the five regional water resources groups (from Environment Agency 2020)

Under the National Framework for Water Resources, set out by the Environment Agency, each of these regional groups will produce a Regional Water Resources Plan. The purpose of these plans is to better understand and address the environmental and water resource needs of a region. This is important because it means strategic solutions can be developed across the country, with collaboration and management at regional scale, rather than being restricted to the boundaries of individual water companies.

The Environment Agency intends that the plans will:

  • Reduce water demand, per person and across sectors.
  • Halve leakage rates by 2050.
  • Develop new water supplies, such as reservoirs and reuse schemes.
  • Move water to where it’s needed.
  • Reduce the use of drought measures that impact the environment.

Why it matters

The health, wellbeing and persistence of nature and people depends on a secure, sustainable supply of water.

It’s no secret that our freshwater environment is suffering. Water is the bedrock for UK biodiversity, yet 0% of our rivers, lakes and streams are in good health, and 13% of our freshwater and wetland species are threatened with extinction. Nearly a fifth of our surface waters, and over a quarter of groundwaters, do not have enough water to protect the environment and to meet the needs of fish and other aquatic life.

This isn’t just a problem for nature- it also affects us. Our blue spaces are intrinsically connected to the wellbeing and economic vitality of our communities. Every day, 14,000 million litres of water is provided by water companies for public water supply, and 1000 million litres of water is used by other sectors, such as industry, power generation, and farming.

The Environment Agency estimates that if no action is taken between 2025 and 2050 around 3,435 million extra litres of water per day will be needed for public water supply to address future pressures. But parts of England are forecast to run out of water in the next 20 years, and our available UK water supply is forecast to drop 7% by 2045 due to climate change and sustainable abstraction limits.

What we're asking for

Regional water resources planning isn’t just about providing water supplies for society. It’s a key mechanism for ensuring that we move towards doing so sustainably – making sure the environment can cope with the demands we’re placing upon it and will be able to continue to provide us with water into the future.

Blueprint for Water believes the regional plans are a real opportunity for the water industry to be ambitious - to go beyond regulatory compliance and show real leadership in the field of sustainable business, and to deliver the objectives of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. By adopting key approaches, principles and goals, we see the plans as a crucial means in helping us turn around the fate of our ailing waters.

This is why we’ve developed our ‘Top 10’ asks, outlining the key areas the plans need to address to tackle the challenges our water environment faces:

  1. Meet the needs of the environment first by setting out how current and future environmental water needs will be met, before additional needs from businesses and households.
  2. Increase resilience by taking action to adapt to climate impacts and increasing pressure on the system, including by reducing abstraction around protected areas.
  3. Deliver 20% biodiversity net gain wherever the regional plan proposes new infrastructure, enhancing the environment on which the sector depends.
  4. Support the achievement of Net Zero as soon as possible, building on the water industry Routemap 2030.
  5. Support the achievement of national water demand reduction targets through short and long-term targets that are at least as ambitious as those in the National Water Resources Framework and the Environment Bill.
  6. Ensure all abstractors play their part in reducing water demand by including commitments from non-public water supply abstractors.
  7. Reduce the impact of new development on water resources through working with developers and local authorities early in the planning process, to reduce additional water demand and explore the feasibility of new developments being water neutral.
  8. Deliver multiple benefits using nature-based solutions by prioritising solutions that help address water resource needs and also reduce pollution or flood risk, or enhance the environment.
  9. Work in partnership and commit to keep engaging with stakeholders by setting out how solutions have been identified, and will be delivered in partnership with a range of stakeholders.
  10. Be vocal where there are policy gaps by identifying where further policy change is needed to support the delivery of the plan.

These challenges won’t be easy to meet, but as society emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming increasingly clear that fixing our broken relationship with nature is not just an expectation, but a need.

If you’re interested in Regional Water Resources Planning, you might like to come along to our Blueprint for Water ‘Water Resources Webinars’. Taking place at 3pm on the first Tuesday of every month, we’ll be joined by a range of external speakers to give insight into the policy framework and shared challenges of Regional Planning. The full webinar schedule and registration link are available here.

As of 17th January 2022, the draft Regional Water Resources Plans have been launched for consultation. Have your say:

Ali Morse is Water Policy Manager at The Wildlife Trusts, and Chair of Blueprint for Water. Nathan Richardson is Head of Policy at Waterwise. Ellie Ward is Policy and Information Coordinator at Wildlife and Countryside Link.

Follow: @WildlifeTrusts, @Waterwise and @WCL_News

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