EA told to fill 'big gaps' in RBM plans

Water UK has welcomed the draft River Basin Management (RBM) plans to improve rivers, lakes, estuaries and other watercourses but said there are still "big gaps that need to be filled".

Its comments are in response to the Environment Agency's consultation into the plans, which follow years of work by the agency and its associates - local authorities, consumer and environmental groups, and the business sector - following adoption of the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

According to Water UK, progress has been made in classifying water bodies and beginning to define how their ecological status might be improved.

However, there are significant gaps including a lack of clarity about sources of funding to enable all sectors to deliver WFD obligations; inadequate focus on minimising greenhouse emissions; and insufficient emphasis on the "polluter pays" principle, which is a requirement of the WFD.

Steve Ntifo, Water UK's Environment and Science adviser, said: "Water UK supports the Environment Agency's aspiration to have an effective Phase 1 river basin management plan, but this isn't it. There are big gaps which must be filled. Water companies are committed to playing a full part in implementing the WFD but success depends on policy taking a new direction. A lot has been achieved, but if the gaps remain the sustainability of the whole project could be at risk."

The plans outline actions to be carried out in the first phase of WFD implementation, the six years 2010-2015.

According to Water UK, the plans need improving in four key areas including the provision of clearer analysis of the costs and benefits of schemes included in the plans; and improvement objectives for groundwater, surface water abstraction sources and associated catchments, currently missing, must be put in place.

The Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) believes the plans "are not ambitious enough" and that there is still room for manoeuvre. In its response to the EA, the EIC said the plans "seem very un-ambitious", and foundations need to be laid now to ensure collaborative thinking among delivery organisations about the environment.

The commission has also questioned whether the plans are innovative enough, saying organisations should be allowed to innovate and "try things that may fail without fear of punitive action by regulators".

The EIC said regulators should be part of the process, and these partnerships should be encouraged in order to find innovative solutions.

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