It’s widely recognised that our freshwater environment is in poor condition and getting worse. Only 16% of England’s groundwater, rivers, lakes, estuaries and seas are close to their natural state. This is impacting not only on wildlife, but also on our society and economy. The costs of floods, droughts and pollution are being passed on to those who suffer their consequences. These challenges will all be exacerbated by the inexorable march of climate change, population growth and new demands on water resources. It is not over-dramatic to say a collapse of the functions provided by our water environment to society could be present an existential threat to our way of life. Floods last winter cost the nation billions of pounds and current predictions indicate we are heading into a drought that will be highly damaging to wildlife, the economy and threaten public water supplies. This is in the context of water shortages predicted to hit 4.7 billion litres per day by 2050, according to Environment Agency Chief Executive, Sir James Bevan.
The organisations in the Blueprint for Water Coalition have been campaigning for the past nearly two decades for improvements to water management, but most of our realistic, sensible, evidence-based policy recommendations have been ignored or kicked down the road by the government.
As we emerge from dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, we must recognise that we have to change course if we are to ensure that the water environment provides for our needs in the future. Our organisations have worked over several months to set out some key strategic recommendations for government, many of which will save and generate new jobs. All of them will help set our country on a path to a sustainable recovery.
There are many fine words in the 25-year Environment Plan, and soon parliament will continue discussing the Environment and Agriculture Bills that will contribute to the Plan’s delivery. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make fundamental changes to the way that we manage land and water. The laudable aspirations of the 25-year Plan will only be met if government is prepared to regulate pollution and water use, with a credible threat of enforcement. They will only be met if government invests in well-established but woefully-underfunded delivery networks such as the Catchment Based Approach and undertakes major public information campaigns. They will only be met if government ensures that considerations about water run through every aspect of environmental policy and that there is greater coherence and integration of monitoring and evidence across climate, air, soils, water, biodiversity, and other functions.
Our strategic recommendations have been crafted with care by experts in 14 organisations. We are ready and eager to work in partnership with government, water companies and the private sector to build a new, sustainable future for our water environment in the UK. But our success depends on government doing the things only government can do: legislating, regulating, investing public money and setting policy.
We are launching this policy document in the run-up to World Environment Day on Friday this week because we believe that freshwater is a fundamental element of the global environment. Without water, there is no life on earth.
You can read our full policy document here.
Mark Lloyd, CEO, The Rivers Trust
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