Entitled; Improving Our Management of Water in the Environment the consultation period, which started on 15th January 2019, closes on 12th March 2019.
DEFRA has instigated this consulting period as they have identified opportunities to modernise the regulation to enable better long-term planning and give regulators the powers that they need to improve the water environment and water services.
The consultation period sets out DEFRA’s proposals for;
- Better long-term planning for water resources and drainage through:
- improved water resources planning to facilitate collaborative regional planning and consider all sectors of water users; and
- statutory drainage and wastewater planning to assess fully wastewater network capacity and to develop collaborative solutions with local authorities, who are responsible for parts of the drainage system.
- Modernising water regulation by:
- reforming elements of abstraction licensing to link it more tightly to objectives for the water environment. In particular, the proposal to clarify the conditions under which the Environment Agency can amend licences to secure good ecological status for water bodies;
- amend existing legislation to enable a new charging methodology for Internal Drainage Boards. Internal Drainage Boards are flood Risk Management Authorities and carry out an important duty in managing water levels in Drainage Districts. The proposed change will enable government, where there is local support, to create new Internal Drainage Boards or expand existing Internal Drainage Boards;
- enabling the Somerset Rivers Authority to be incorporated and establishing it as a flood Risk Management Authority and a major precepting authority so it can work more effectively with other organisations to better protect the residents and local environment from flooding;
- To begin discussions around enabling new local funding to be raised to tackle flooding and coastal erosion; and
- modernise the process for modifying water company licence conditions to bring them in line with other utilities and to strengthen Ofwat’s ability to improve the way that water companies operate.
Statistics from DEFRA suggest that there has been a significant improvement in the water environment and in resilience to flood and drought in recent years; In 2018, 97.9% of bathing waters passed minimum quality standards with 92.4% of these achieving the highest standards of Good or Excellent status. The number of serious pollution incidents caused by the water industry reduced from over 500 per year in the early 1990s to 57 in 2016, and leakage levels are down by around a third since 1994. Water industry investment since privatisation has been around £140 billion, equivalent to around £5 billion annually. The government is investing £2.6 billion from 2015 to 2021 in flood and coastal defence projects, and already 147,000 homes are better protected.
However, there is more to do to achieve the commitments of clean and plentiful water and reducing the risks of harm from environmental hazards, as set out in
A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment
The DEFRA document states; “There are challenges to restore many of our waters to as close to natural state as possible, and to improve water and flood resilience. The combination of climate change and population growth will make these challenges even more difficult.
Existing regulatory processes can help us rise to the challenge. The Environment Agency have consulted on the approach to the next round of river basin management plans to determine how we can meet our target for the water environment. Water companies are planning to invest £50 billion over the next five years, which will improve water quality and increase flood and drought resilience.”