Resilience tops government wishes for water sector
Building resilience and protecting vulnerable customers are the government's top two priorities for the water sector, Sarah Hendry, Director, Floods & Water at Defra told the Institute of Water Environment conference.
Long-term resilience is a particularly crucial requirement which is why the government set out its thinking in the resilience roadmap published last year, Hendry told the event in Birmingham on Thursday (March 16th). Water companies must step up to the four key challenges of population growth, ageing infrastructure, environmental degradation and climate change, she said.
Promoting water efficiency is the best immediate way of mitigating the effects of population growth and water stress, but bringing about voluntary behaviour change customers is often the preferable way of achieving this. “We need to think about not only forcing people to do things, but nudging them to do so,” said Hendry.
Where new infrastructure is required, the government would make sure that important projects enjoyed a smoother path to planning consents through National Policy Statements (NPSs). “This is an example of how regulation can remove obstacles to getting things done,” said Hendry. The first ever National Infrastructure Assessment, to be completed in 2018, would clarify this approach still further.
Hendry restated Defra’s commitment to producing a 25-year plan for the environment, and added that water companies could play their part in this by working and co-operating with local stakeholders. “A key principle of the plan will be working locally, particularly at a catchment level, and partnership working. We need real local leadership. The aim will be to make sure that everyone appreciates the value of the environment in their local area.”
She described exiting the EU as “an opportunity to take a look in the round at what we want our environment to be.”
Terry A’Hearn, chief executive of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) told the conference that regulators could be a partner to the water sector in ‘beyond compliance innovation’ which benefits the environment. Sustainability needs to be the goal. “If everybody in the world lived like us in the UK then in environmental footprint terms we’d need three planets,” said A’Hearn. “We’ve got to get it from three back to one.”
Later, Peter Simpson, CEO of Anglian Water, told delegates that facilitating water transfers between water companies – one measure frequently cited as building resilience – should be within the capabilities of the water companies to bring about without pressure from above. “This can happen – it doesn’t have to be a case of the regulator saying ‘thou shalt do this’,” he said.
He highlighted Anglian’s collaborative work with businesses and other local stakeholders in the Water Resources East (WRE) initiative as an example of how water companies need to understand local water demand when drawing up supply and resilience plans. The reliability of water supplies is a key environmental issue because “in a shortage, all bets are off for the environment – you just take the water that’s available,” said Simpson.
The event, the Institute of Water’s first ever Environment Conference, was chaired by Water Policy International founder Ian Barker, with other speakers including Ofwat’s David Black, David Elliott of Wessex Water, Paul Hickey of the Environment Agency and Alastair Maltby of the Rivers Trust.
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