Water sector plans could be greener

16th April 2014

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Amanda Knowles

Just one-third of water companies in England and Wales have good strategies to minimise abstraction from environmentally sensitive sources, say conservation groups

A coalition of environmental charities, including WWF-UK, RSPB and Waterwise, have published an analysis of water companies’ proposed business plans for 2015–20 and the approaches to dealing with environment issues adopted by the firms.

The group found just three of the 21 firms have clear plans which would see “good progress” across a range of 10 environment issues, including reducing abstraction from sensitive areas, considering demand reduction measures, installing water meters and implementing catchment management.

The Blueprint for Water coalition, praised Affinity Water, United Utilities and Wessex Water for their efforts, but warned of a “yawning gap” between their plans and those of their peers.

According to the report, while 76% of firms have set out plans that will result in good progress in preventing increases in the amount of water they remove overall, just 57% have similarly ambitious plans to cut the number of damaging abstraction licences they hold. And only one-third of companies have plans to manage their operations in a way that ensures less water is taken from vulnerable environments.

The report states that the sector’s approach in this area was “extremely disappointing”, but “inevitable” given Ofwat’s decision not to incorporate financial rewards into its abstraction incentive mechanism, as had been originally proposed.

The analysis also looked at water firms’ plans for installing smart meters and for putting in place tariffs to encourage customers to consume less water. The coalition found that just 20% had plans that will ensure good progress on these issues, and that only Wessex Water and Thames Water planned to pilot tariffs to incentivise water efficiency.

While expressing disappointment at the lack of progress made by water companies on establishing a fair price for water, the report acknowledges that recent decisions by regulators are hampering their efforts.

“An independent government review recommended that 80% of England and Wales should be metered by 2020. It is therefore incredibly frustrating that the Environment Agency’s and Natural Resources Wales’ latest, inexplicable revision of the serious water stress designations has made this target unachievable,” it states.

Janina Gray, chair of Blueprint for Water, said: “Our report shows that there is real innovation and ambition for the environment from parts of the water industry. We hope that this report shines a light on this so others will follow.”

Rose O’Neill, freshwater programme manager at WWF-UK, said the report highlighted that water companies need to be more transparent with their business plans.

“While many water companies have some really laudable environmental plans, there is very little evidence in the public domain to show whether or not they are achieving their goals. Anyone trying to get a clear view of how well they are performing will be looking into muddy waters at best,” she commented.

“There were cases with seven companies where we could not quite tell what was going on. We need full transparency and proper public scrutiny so that everyone knows what their water bills are paying for and so water companies can be held to account.”

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