UPDATED: Water White Paper published

The overdue Water White Paper has today (December 8) been unveiled by government - gaining a generally positive response from industry.

The ‘Water for Life’ paper, which was originally scheduled for release in July, sets out plans to reform the UK water industry in line with meeting increasing environmental and water stress demands.

Speaking at the White Paper launch this morning, environment secretary Caroline Spelman warned that Britain is already facing water scarcity in some areas and environmental damage as a result of over-abstraction.

Key points in the paper outlined measures to expand competition for business customers among water companies.

Ms Spelman also said she wants to knock down barriers stopping new businesses getting into the water market.

In addition, she added that severe weather events, population growth and the need to grow more food have all put more pressure on water supplies and will continue to do so.

Ms Spelman said: “Currently we enjoy clean water at the turn of a tap, and watch it drain away without a thought.

“But parts of England actually have less rainfall per person than many Mediterranean countries. Making sure we’ve got enough water for everyone is going to be one of the major challenges this country will have to deal with in the years ahead.

“We can already see the type of problems we may face, with parts of Britain still in drought even though we’re in December.

“With water expected to be less predictable as time goes on we all have to play our part in ensuring our water supply remains secure.”

Other key points focused on in the paper include the future challenges faced by the water sector, such as maintaining water supplies and water costs.

Plans to encourage water efficiency measures under the Green Deal were also introduced, as well as a new campaign which aims to encourage water efficiency and get communities on board to help improve the health of local rivers, which will launch in the New Year.

Meanwhile, plans to introduce a reformed water abstraction regime were covered – slightly at odds with plans to introduce one year abstraction licenses for businesses.

According to the paper, a draft water bill is set to be published in early 2012, with the introduction of a water bill as soon as parliament allows, while plans to consult on the proposals are expected in 2013, with the aim of introducing legislation to reform the regime early in the next parliament.

Overall, the paper was welcomed, with the Environment Agency (EA) saying it “sets out clear objectives for delivering future water management in response to the potential pressures of climate change and population growth”.

However, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) though supportive of the paper, saying it places “priority on the right issues for actions”, warned it lacks “strength in a number of key areas”.

As a result, the CIWEM has called for the establishment of widespread metering and flexible and social tariffs.

CIWEM executive director, Nick Reeves, said: “Broadly this is a positive document which should set in train work on a number of fronts that will in time deliver positive benefit for the environment and society.

“But central to this is that we value our water properly and in order to do this we need to measure water use accurately and then utilise tariffs that discourage profligacy and support those who generally struggle to afford their water. This White Paper does too little to encourage wider metering which is a crucial part of this balance.”

Conclusions to reviews on ‘Competition and Innovation in Water Markets’ and ‘Charging Household Water and Sewerage Services’ and a recent review by Ofwat were also offered in the paper.

In addition, the Government’s position following the affordability consultation, which closed June 17 2011, was included in the document.

The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) also expressed disappointment in some measures introduced in the paper; warning that measures to reduce water use and better safeguard wetlands is delayed, while concerns about urban flooding and over-abstraction are “fudged”.

WWT head of conservation policy Carrie Hume, said: “Wetland drainage systems that soak up floodwater in towns and cities are easy to create, often inexpensive and highly effective.

“But standards for their installation have still not been published while the concept of retrofitting around existing urban areas is all but ignored.

“And the Government has offered disappointingly little to encourage reduced water use.

“Water meters do cut consumption and stronger inducements promoting their installation could have been very effective.”

However, consultancy firm Atkins managing director Mike Woolgar, told edieWater the paper “reflects the complexity of the issues which need to be addressed well”, adding that though his initial reaction was it “could have gone further” the forthcoming consultations demonstrates many of the issues are “contentious”.

He said: “It’s a good political document that addresses the ongoing conflicts. There is a lot of work to be done to develop this White Paper into effective regulation and action. Some of the ideas are significant and require further consultation so it is wise to pursue these through in-depth consultation even if it takes a little longer; better to take a bit longer and get it right for the next generation than to rush and get it wrong.”

The full document can be viewed here.

Carys Matthews

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