Water companies urged to 'up their game' on pollution and natural capital through to 2025
The UK water sector has stepped up its environmental ambition in the current business planning period, but gaps remain when it comes to reducing sewage pollution incidents and factoring in the value of natural capital.
That’s according to a new set of environmental scorecards released today (29 January) by Blueprint for Water, part of the Wildlife and Countryside Link – the largest environment coalition in England.
Through the scorecards, Blueprint for Water analyses the strength of the water companies’ current plans to protect and improve the environment over the next five-year business cycle of 2020-2025, referred to in the industry as ‘PR19’.
Generally speaking, the water suppliers’ PR19 plans indicate a "positive step change in environmental ambition from the water sector" compared with the previous planning period. However, there are also some ‘key areas which need actioning’ – notably those that relate to natural capital, pollution incidents, water efficiency of customers, and environmental advocacy.
Blueprint for Water chair Hannah Freeman said: “We’ve seen a welcome and notable increase in environmental ambition from water companies in their most recent financial plans. However, there’s still a long way to go, with too many severe pollution events and untreated sewage entering our waterways and well over a thousand Olympic-sized swimming pools of water leaked from pipes every day. We want all future plans to routinely factor in enhancing the natural capital that water companies rely on, to help both business and nature to thrive.”
Dani Jordan, a water policy specialist at WWF – one of the 17 organisations supporting the development of the scorecards – added that there are a few water companies “lagging behind the rest of the industry in terms of environmental ambition and commitment”.
“Some water companies could clearly up their game on specific environmental issues, like monitoring and reducing sewage pollution incidents," Jordan said.
Thames Water and Severn Trent Water have been ranked at the bottom of the water-and-sewerage company scorecard, both in terms of the review of what their business plans say on environmental matters and on the level of ambition of their common commitments on issues such as pollution and leakage. Both companies were, however, awarded Blueprint ‘Blue Stars’ for projects which demonstrated sector-leading innovation and ambition – Severn Trent Water for a biodiversity enhancement project and Thames Water for its ‘Smarter Catchments’ initiative.
Across the water industry, more than £5bn will be invested in environmental improvements over the next five years. This includes more than 350 catchment management projects to deal with environmental problems at source rather than the end of the pipe; commitments to reduce leakage by more than 15% to reduce water demand and to deal with unsustainable abstraction.
Blueprint for Water’s environmental review of the water industry’s PR19 plans comes just before OFWAT, the water regulator, is due to publish its Initial Assessment of the Business Plans on Thursday (31 January).