Regulator looks at water woes

Investment will need to be ploughed into the UK's water network, to replace ageing infrastructure, prevent pollution and protect us from the worst effects of climate change, according to environmental regulators.

The Environment Agency’s board met last Wednesday and future investment in water supply and sewage treatment were high on the agenda.

“There are many factors that will influence water prices, such as capital investments, the cost of borrowing, operational obligations and the scope to improve efficiency,” said Environment Agency chairman Sir John Harman.

“It is equally important to ensure environmental obligations are recognised. There has been considerable reduction in the environmental impact of water company abstractions and discharges over the past 20 years, and this has led to an improvement in the quality of our rivers and beaches.

“However, there is still much to do. At the current rate of replacement it will take some companies hundreds of years to lay new water and sewage pipes, and build new water treatment plants.

“Issues surrounding the ever-increasing demand for water, the effects of and climate change and further environmental improvements are all important and will influence the review.”

The agency has outlined five priorities in this area:

  • Supply and demand: further investment is required in water efficiency measures, preventing leaks, new resource development and household metering, especially in areas of water stress caused by housing and population growth and climatic variability.
  • National environment programme: more investment is needed to prevent damaging sewage discharges, improve rivers and beaches and to protect habitats at risk from over abstraction.
  • Maintenance, improvement and protection of infrastructure: the summer floods highlighted the need for companies to protect their water distribution and sewage treatment plants.
  • Climate change: water companies need to take action on mitigation and adaptation as they are in the front line of tackling and managing the effects of climate change.
  • Reducing surface water floods in urban areas: urban flooding is an unpleasant mix of water from sewers, rivers, groundwater, and intense rain run-off from roads, roofs and land.

    Responsibility for managing these different sources of water is fragmented between different organisations, including water companies, local authorities and the Environment Agency and others. The problem will increase with development pressures, climate change and ageing infrastructure.

    Sam Bond

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