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How Committed Are We to Water Quality?

2015 is the year when that European environmental juggernaut, the Water Framework Directive, was supposed to achieve 'good' status for its waterbodies. Yet all Member States, including the UK, are still well short of their targets.

Just 17% of English rivers are meeting WFD ‘good’ status according to Environment Agency figures - a number that has actually gone down by 6% because tougher EU measures shifted the environmental goal posts even further away.

Meanwhile, the EU has referred the United Kingdom to the European Court of Justice for inadequate collection and treatment of wastewater in 17 urban areas, under the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive.

It seems a depressing situation. Yet, there’s no doubt that environmental waters across our nation have improved hugely. Fish and water mammals have returned in great numbers to formerly polluted waters such as the Thames, Tyne, Wear and Mersey rivers. Tighter limits for ammonia and phosphates are driving even greater improvements.

A milestone in the quality of surface water runoff was also reached last month with the start of long-awaited regulations for Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) on new developments as part of the planning system in England and Wales. But significant revisions to original Government plans have left many wondering to what extent water quality objectives will be met and whether SuDS will be built to measurable, repeatable water treatment standards. Furthermore, there’s still a huge job to be done to retrofit SuDS to achieve improved water quality in urban environments.

At a recent top-level conference convened by the European Commission to discuss progress and future targets for the WFD there were tensions and differences amongst key stakeholders, according to media reports. For the public, it’s a confusing and contradictory picture of moving targets, policy revisions, delays and uncertainties. No surprise then, that water quality hardly featured in election campaigning.

It is every citizen’s right to expect good environmental water quality. As a new Government term begins, the UK water industry must send a strong and united message to policymakers that water quality is a non-negotiable ‘must-have’ with the resultant investment in infrastructure, technology innovation and systems maintenance it deserves.

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