Water companies must go further to help deliver a £5 billion investment in the natural environment by 2025, the Environment secretary told the industry today.
Michael Gove threw down the gauntlet to water bosses as the ambitious measures were set out by the Environment Agency, in the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP).
The plan aims to help tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the water environment, from the spread of invasive species and low flows to the effects of chemical and nutrient pollution.
In a statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Secretary of State announced: “I want water companies to invest in the long-term future of our environment. It is right that the Environment Agency is challenging water companies to go further.
“This significant investment will help tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the natural environment. It will help to improve our waterways, increase biodiversity and combat non-native invasive species. This will support our goal to leave the environment in a better state for future generations.”
Water companies, Defra’s statement added, have “a duty to protect and enhance the natural water environment” and that the government expects them to meet the obligations by 2025.
The investment will:
- Protect and improve at least 6000km of our waters
- Protect and improve 24 bathing waters and 10 shellfish sites
- Protect and improve 1800 hectares of protected nature conservation sites
- Enhance nearly 900km of river and 4276 hectares through wider biodiversity improvements
While the programme is said to represent the “basic measures” required of industry, it also presents “an opportunity… to develop innovative approaches which will benefit customers, communities, the environment and natural capital”.
Environment Agency Chair Emma Howard Boyd said a clean water environment was essential to the success of the economy.
“Water quality has improved in recent decades but water companies are still responsible for at least one serious pollution incident every week.
“We put together a programme of work for water companies over the next five years which will produce significant environmental improvements.
“Water companies have until later this year to submit more detailed plans to Ofwat. I’m looking forward to seeing more innovation and less pollution.”
Certain areas of the programme will, on an exceptional basis, be considered for an extension of the 2020-2025 timeframe if they bring “long-term sustainable outcomes and maximise environmental benefits”. Businesses have until the end of this month to submit any such cases to the Environment Agency and Ofwat.
Responding, a Water UK spokesperson said: “By 2020 water companies will have invested around £25 billion into environmental work, putting in more advanced treatment methods to improve the quality of our waterways.
“They have also invested well over £2.5 billion to protect UK bathing waters, which means two-thirds of UK beaches are now classed as excellent, compared with less than a third 25 years ago.
“Companies have been working closely with government and the Environment Agency to finalise ambitious environmental plans for 2020-25, which will form part of investment programmes to be submitted this September.”