Government green plan promotes natural measures to corral usage and flooding

The government this week highlighted its environmental ambitions for the water sector when it unveiled its 25-year environment plan. The plan included incentivising greater water efficiency and less personal use while reducing the impact wastewater, new rules for farmers on water management, greater use of natural water management and sustainable drainage; and reforming water abstraction.

Actions outlined in the plan to up water supply and incentivise greater water efficiency and less personal use included work with a group led by Waterwise to improve water efficiency and customer involvement in looking at the impact of new efficiency measures. Actions also included streamlining the planning of large infrastructure and working with the water industry to foster strategies to increase resilience and to determine targets for personal water consumption.

Under its ambition to produce “clean and plentiful water” the plan included a pledge to improve “at least three quarters of our waters to close to their natural state as soon as is practicable by reducing the damaging abstraction of water from rivers and groundwater."

It aimed to ensure that “everyone is able to access the information they need to assess any risks to their lives and livelihoods, health and prosperity posed by flooding and coastal erosion,” while at the same time “boosting the long-term resilience of our homes, businesses and infrastructure.”

The government said it would ensure also that decisions on land use and development “reflect the level of current and future flood risk,” and that “interruptions to water supplies are minimised during prolonged dry weather and drought.”

The plan outlined new rules that will require every farmer to manage risks to water on their land. Meanwhile he government said it will look to greater deployment of natural flood management including tree planting, river bank restoration, building small-scale woody dams, reconnecting rivers with their flood plains and storing water temporarily on open land. Water UK chief executive, Michael Roberts, welcomed this focus: “The plan’s ambition for this model, and to work smarter, will bring benefits for river quality, farmers, flooding as well as water bill payers.”

The plan included also a call for greater use of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) to reduce the risk of surface water flooding. It proposed amendments to Planning Practice Guidance to “clarify construction and ongoing maintenance arrangements for SuDS in new developments, tightening links with planning guidance for water quality and biodiversity.” And it said changes to the National Planning Policy Framework and Building Regulations to encourage SuDS would be considered in the long term.

Reform in water abstraction featured in the plan. The government said: "While we will support abstractors to access the water they need to operate efficiently, we will continue to amend licences in cases of unsustainable abstraction and support and encourage innovation.”

It looked to water trading and storage as means to improve access to water sources. Its pledges included “making sure that water companies take a leading role in addressing unsustainable abstraction,” as well as regulating significant abstractions that have been historically exempt, and updating all abstraction licensing strategies by 2027 with a report to Parliament in 2019 on progress made.