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The Integrated Plan for Water

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There has been widespread coverage across print, broadcast, online and trade media outlets on the government’s Plan for Water.

The Plan for Water covers both the water environment – how clean it is – and water resources – how much of it we have. It brings together the significant action already taken, along with more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement on those who pollute.

It includes action to tackle every single source of pollution – storm overflows, agriculture, plastics, road run-off and chemicals – as well as the pressures on our water resources. New action includes:

  • £1.6 billion of new, accelerated investment by water companies to spend on infrastructure to tackle pollution and increase water resilience
  • New plans to restrict the use of ‘forever’ chemicals (PFAS) found in rivers and seas
  • Increasing the scope and maximum amount the Environment Agency can secure in penalties, with a preferred option for unlimited penalties.
  • Ensuring that all fines and penalties are reinvested into a new Water Restoration Fund, delivering on-the-ground improvements and supporting local groups and community-led schemes
  • A consultation to ban plastic wet wipes.
  • An extra £34 million for farmers to tackle water pollution, with an additional £10 million for farm reservoirs and irrigation.
  • Increasing permit charges on water companies to fund more EA water company inspections, with new inspection targets.
  • Streamlining the planning process so that water supply infrastructure – such as reservoirs and water transfer schemes – can be built more quickly.

There has been national coverage on the Plan including in The Telegraph, The Times, BBC News, iNews, Daily Mail, The Independent, The Sun, ITV News and the Daily Mirror, as well as the Sheffield Star, Eastern Daily Press and Western Morning News.

In a comment piece in The Telegraph, Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey shared how our Plan for Water will meet the challenges faced by our complex, interconnected water system – including a growing population and a changing climate.

Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey said:

Our rare chalk streams and world-famous coastlines, lakes and rivers are hugely important to local communities and to nature.

I completely understand the concerns that people have about the health and resilience of our waters, which is why I am setting out this plan for a truly national effort to protect and improve them. That includes higher penalties taken from water company profits which will be channelled back into the rivers, lakes and streams where it is needed.

This is not straightforward, but I take this issue extremely seriously and things need to change. That’s why we have developed this plan and we are committed to delivering the progress that people want to see.

Water Minister Rebecca Pow said:

This ambitious plan marks a step change in how we manage our waters - pulling together all the strands of our complex water system, and setting us on a trajectory for a clean and sustainable water supply for future generations.

Crucially, it will ensure that we secure clean water from a healthy environment, where chalk streams are restored and entire catchments - from source to sea - are the focal point.

Environment Agency Chair Alan Lovell said:

Climate change and population growth mean that by 2050 around 4 billion extra litres of water will be needed every day in England. Defra’s plan sets out a pathway that integrates action on supply and demand with work on floods and pollution. We must take full advantage of the current public interest to deliver a truly national effort to protect water. This plan sets the trajectory.

I am also pleased to see today’s consultation on enabling the Environment Agency to levy much larger penalties for pollution alongside the criminal fines we seek in the courts. Nature must be supported and the polluter must pay. These new measures will help us hold the water industry and others to account.

Natural England Chair Tony Juniper said:

Protecting and improving our freshwater habitats is an essential part of maintaining some of our iconic wetland and river landscapes and for meeting the government’s statutory targets for Nature recovery.

It is very positive to see a focus on key Nature recovery priorities, including support for work to improve chalk streams, adding meanders back to rivers and restoring freshwater wildlife habitats. These measures will go hand in hand with our new mitigation scheme to help protect internationally important wetlands from nutrient pollution.

Natural England looks forward to working closely with the government in making the most of this very welcome new plan in protecting and restoring Nature and improving the quality of our freshwater environments, while bringing benefits for farmers, communities and wildlife.

A Rivers Trust spokesperson said:

We welcome the release of the Government’s Plan for Water today, setting out in one document how they will address the poor state of our waterbodies. The central theme of a catchment-based approach is the only logical management scale on which to deliver solutions for our water environment and one we have extensive experience of. Ringfencing water company fines to restore the water environment is a positive step, as are actions set out on tackling plastic wet wipes and persistent chemicals, but the devil will always be in the detail when the plan moves to delivery. We look forward to working with Defra, the Environment Agency, and Natural England to help ensure this plan kick starts a step change in the conditions of our rivers through integration and delivery.

We believe there is still too much focus on grey infrastructure and pouring concrete to solve water quality problems. Our experience has shown that nature based solutions can deliver for water quality at the same time as managing flood risk, mitigating climate change and halting the decline in biodiversity. We need more focus on using our limited time, land and money to deliver more efficiently for our environment. We still have gaps in regional governance to link the local scale to the national, and we are still waiting for a long-term overarching, outcome-based target for healthy water.

Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee Philip Dunne MP said:

I welcome this wide-ranging Plan for Water to improve water quality in England’s rivers. Water companies must recognise their role in restoring rivers to good health, and any failure to meet environmental targets must be reflected by withholding performance awards and dividends from directors and shareholders respectively. The Government’s Plan for Water addresses many of the recommendations in EAC’s Water Quality in Rivers report: tackling illegal sewage spills and damaging microplastic road runoff, seeking to ban plastic-based wet wipes from sale, and working with farmers to reduce agricultural pollution.

We are also pleased to see that the Government intends to fund catchment action plans which will deliver integrated approaches to the pollution issues blighting many river basins.

This plan does not deliver a quick fix, nor can decades of under-investment in our drains underground be put right overnight. But the measures set out, and the investment promised, represent a credible and wide-ranging strategy to tackle the scourges of pollution and underinvestment which have blighted England’s waterways for too long. Sewage discharges into waterways should only occur during truly exceptional weather events: this plan sets out the initial stages for investment in the sewerage network so that unpermitted spills are eliminated.

Accepting our recommendation to ban polluting plastic wet wipes will help to reduce the excessive use of storm overflows. These single use wipes clog up drains and sewage works. They combine with fat and grease in sewers and congeal into revolting ‘fat bergs’ that cost water companies and billpayers many millions to unblock every year.

“The Committee will continue to focus on the delivery of these measures not only by Ministers but also by all other stakeholders in the water system. Sustained scrutiny and consistent regulation is required to restore England’s rivers to a healthy state.

A Water UK spokesperson said:

We strongly welcome today’s plan, which for the first time deals with every sector that has a responsibility for the water environment.

We particularly agree with the plan’s support for more investment – but also better policy, where the plan proposes to ban plastic in wet wipes, a major cause of fatbergs and pollution.

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  1. Comment by Brian Elliott posted on

    It's about time the water companies and CEOs are bought to task .They shouldn't be paid any bonus or share divided until All the problems have been fixed. For too long they have been taking OUR money and pocketing it instead of using it to replace the water infrastructure which is what we pay for NOT to feed the CEOs and share holders bank accounts.

  2. Comment by Tony Johnson posted on

    This only covers part of the problems with water quality. Here we have the river Douglas passing through our gardens since Liverpool Corporation Water diverted the bulk of the water into newly constructed reservoirs in the 1850s. Now under privatisation (UU) this water has been replaced with surface water run off from a housing estate and soon to add another. This means that no clean water comes down our river which now only acts as an open sewer with regular contamination problems. Surely this part of the river Douglas should maintain high standards for biodiversity that has been lost over the last 20 years.