EA announces largest ever environmental improvement programme for waterways

The Environment Agency is planning the largest and most far-reaching programme of environmental improvements for rivers and beaches yet undertaken in England and Wales, which will cost the water industry billions.

A new report, The National Environment Programme , has now been approved by Ministers. Originally announced in November last year, but with specific projects now detailed in the report, the project is estimated to cost the water industry £5.3 billion over the next five years.

“After announcing the preliminary programme in November 1999 we are delighted to set out in detail The National Environment Programme, which will go a long way down the road of achieving sustainable development in the water industry,” said Environment Agency Chairman, Sir John Harman.

“The project covers England and Wales and will protect or improve 3600 kilometres of river and deal with more than 4500 overflows of sewage discharges to rivers and the sea after storms.”

The new report details the 6000 projects, together with their completion dates, which will insure that:

  • discharges to coastal waters get the same treatment as discharges to rivers;
  • the use of untreated sewage sludge in agriculture is phased out;
  • discharges to sensitive rivers receive additional treatment;
  • abstractions causing environmental damage will be curtailed; and
  • water quality at beaches is improved.

“More than 100 important wildlife sites will be protected through this programme,” said Harman. “It is important to remember that over the last four decades, England and Wales have lost valuable wetland habitats including 70 percent of its reedbeds, 60 percent of wet grassland and 94 percent of lowland raised bog. One-third of existing Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s) are wetland sites.”

A survey of the views of domestic water customers in 1997 indicated that 95 percent of them would prefer water company profits to be spent on “green” improvements rather than on cuts in water bills.

According to the water industry body, Water UK, companies are enthusiastic about the project.

“The first thing is we are really pleased to be part of one of the biggest schemes to improve the water environment,” Mike Walker, Policy Development Officer at Water UK told edie . There is concern, however, that future projects should have greater co-ordination between the Environment Agency’s concerns over water quality, and OFWAT’s responsibility towards customer price cuts.

Copies of The National Environment Programme can be obtained from Jan Williams, The Environment Agency, Rio House, Waterside Drive, Aztec West, Almondsbury, Bristol, BS32 4UD.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie