Revolutionary thinking

Flooding and water shortages will drive a revolution in the way we manage water resources. The water industry will need to be innovative, and to put an end to its short-sightedness, writes Merlin Hyman.

The water environment faces ever increasing challenges – as do those who manage it. Climate change, shortage of supply, flooding and the standards set in the Water Framework Directive (WFD) are all becoming urgent priorities.

Policy, pricing and practice will have to change radically as we face up to these


The Environmental Industries Commission’s (EIC) Water Pollution Control Working Group represents more than 80 leading companies supplying water pollution control technologies and services.

The group is promoting a more proactive lead from government and the regulators to the structures and measures needed to tackle the challenges facing the water environment.

Perhaps the biggest changes at present come from the WFD, which is leading to

a revolution in the way the water environment is managed, as well as much tougher targets for the quality of our rivers and watercourses.

The first deadline under the directive for water bodies to reach good ecological status is 2015. This is a huge challenge given the great majority of rivers and lakes currently are on course to fail this target.

Defra’s approach to the directive has, disappointingly, been to go for the minimum possible requirements. But, even given this, the next Periodic Review of Water Prices will be key in funding some of the major projects that will be required to comply with directive.

It is worth remembering that compliance is not optional and that the European Court of Justice can hand out major fines to those failing to meet directive requirements.

EIC will be pushing for a clear Programme of Measures to achieve the directive standards and for the Periodic Review. This is to ensure those measures that apply to the water industry are funded. EIC is also working on encouraging broader measures, in particular sustainable urban drainage systems, towards a more sustainable water environment.

As we go forward, it is widely acknowledged climate change will drive a revolution in the way we manage water resources.

Flooding and water shortages, already major problems, will grow yet further placing a premium on water conservation and efficiency.

In responding to these challenges, the water sector will need to be innovative in its use of technology and solutions. But the five-year cycle of funding has promoted short-term thinking, a lack of innovation, and a boom-and-bust environment for the supply chain.

Examples abound of projects needing to be upgraded just a few years after construction at much greater cost than doing it at the start. And many energy-hungry, bolt-on solutions are used rather than more sustainable ones.

A key challenge now for the water sector, therefore, is to develop a more innovative approach that focuses on whole-life costs. EIC is lobbying Ofwat to recognise that it has to do more to tackle the short-term approach in the next Periodic Review to take a big step in this direction.

It is time to recognise the scale of the challenges for the water environment and

the changes needed, and for a step change in the urgency with which we are responding.

Putting it off will only increase costs when we do respond. And those countries that take the lead will develop the technologies and skills to export as the rest of the world responds to climate change.

To promote debate, EIC is working with Faversham House Group, publisher of WET News and organiser of the IWEX 2007 event. IWEX 2007 is part of Sustainabilitylive!, the UK’s largest forum for excellence and innovation in water, environment, land and energy. EIC will be running a major conference on May 1 at the exhibition. This will cover a variety of topics concerning:

  • The future of the water environment
  • Using water efficiently: intelligent water conservation
  • Period review 2010-2015: end of boom and bust?

Speakers at the conference will include Environment Agency chairman Sir John Harman, Water UK’s Pamela Taylor, Defra’s Martin Hurst, Hydro International’s Chris Williams, and Envirowise’s Stuart Ballinger. Visit for more details.

Merlin Hyman is director of EIC. T: 0207 935 1675.

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