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NGOs welcome improved environmental resilience in otherwise 'timid' Water Bill

27.01.14

The Blueprint for Water coalition of environmental groups has welcomed changes to the Water Bill that will increase the sustainability of the water industry by placing a new, strengthened ‘resilience duty’ on the regulator. 
  
The Water Bill currently passing through parliament will give Ofwat a duty to promote ‘resilience’ by ensuring that water companies ‘manage water resources in sustainable ways and reduce demand for water.’ The Blueprint coalition, which includes WWF, RSPB and the Angling Trust, had raised concerns that the Bill initially defined resilience in a way that ignored the vital role it plays in supporting the resilience of the natural environment.
  
The Government have now amended the ‘resilience duty’ so that it includes environmental resilience, and Blueprint members now believe this duty could play an important role in ensuring that water companies deliver environmental improvements to the UK’s already stressed and over- abstracted rivers and watercourses.
  
However, Blueprint believes that even with these welcome amendments the Water Bill is still far too timid and fails to live up to the 2011 Water White Paper, which promised abstraction reform.
   
Martin Salter, Campaigns Chief for the Angling Trust said, "All the environmental groups have been working hard to ensure that the water regulator was obligated to take account of environmental concerns and not just economic pressures. This new and strengthened resilience duty, with its obligation “to manage water resources in sustainable ways and reduce demand for water”, goes some way to addressing our concerns and we are pleased that the government has listened."  

The main thrust of the Water Bill is introducing competition in the retail market for water, but the Bill also introduces competition in the so-called upstream market, namely in water abstraction, treatment and disposal of sewage. However, environmentalists are concerned that without reform of the system by which we abstract water, upstream competition could incentivise existing abstraction licence holders to sell their water to water companies even when the catchment is already ‘over- abstracted’ or ‘over-licensed.’ Given that the Environment Agency estimate that nearly 40% of water company abstraction volume is not used1 and that 18% of catchments are over-licensed already2, this is no paper risk.  

Rose O’Neill, Water Policy Manager at WWF said, "We are urgently calling on the Government to set out its commitment on abstraction reform in the Water Bill. Without this, our already over- stressed water environment could be further degraded, and the potential benefits of upstream competition will never be realised."  
The Blueprint for Water coalition is calling for the Government to amend the Water Bill so that it:
  • Creates a framework for a sustainable abstraction regime;
  • Introduces safeguards for the environment against upstream competition;
  • Gives customers the right to choose universal metering in their area; 
  • Ensures that fracking companies have the funds to pay for the cost of clean-up, should pollution occur.

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