Water companies urged to improve infrastructure and reduce water use to protect the environment

Posted: Monday 17th November 2008

Water companies in England and Wales must invest more in maintenance to improve the environment and reduce the risk of pollution incidents, the Environment Agency said recently. Last year, water companies were responsible for one fifth of all serious pollution incidents - many of which were caused by poorly maintained, overloaded or ageing sewerage infrastructure.

Responding to the water companies' draft business plans for 2010-2015, the Environment Agency called on the industry to be clear about its priorities for capital maintenance, taking into account the potential impact on the environment.

The Environment Agency welcomed many of the water companies' proposals, but urged them to do more to manage their resources and work with customers to reduce demand for water, which could include the introduction of compulsory water metering in areas of high water usage. The Environment Agency will also ensure that water companies plan for secure supplies for people and industry, and adapt to population growth and climate change.

In addition, the water companies will also be pressed to review their draft plans to take account of the increased risk of flooding to their key assets due to climate change. Such infrastructure, including water treatment and sewage works, is often located by rivers and is particularly susceptible to flooding. Many plants were badly affected during the summer 2007 floods, cutting water supplies and sewage services to thousands of homes and businesses.

The Environment Agency is concerned that few companies are proposing action on the issue of flooding from surface water drains - an issue highlighted by the Pitt Review. Surface water flooding (from overflowing

drains) was the key cause of the summer 2007 floods and, although water companies have made a start on tackling this important issue, the Environment Agency wants to see more commitment from the industry to help with production and delivery of plans to help reduce surface water flooding. It is also calling on water companies to include firm proposals to reduce the number of properties at risk from sewage flooding.

David King, the Environment Agency's Director of Water Management, said: "There is a lot to commend in the proposals from the water companies, however we are keen to see more detail on their plans for capital maintenance. We need to be reassured that such investment is in the right areas to protect the environment and will deliver value for money.

"Over the next few months, we will work closely with the water industry, Ofwat, and others to improve their draft documents into final business plans which represent the best solutions for the environment, and which deliver the best value for customers."

The business plans, which have been submitted to Ofwat, set out the industry's approach to managing water resources, investing in infrastructure and making environmental improvements. The regulator's Periodic Review process is particularly important in the light of recent floods and droughts and the introduction of new legislation relating to water quality and habitats. Ofwat will make its final decisions on the business plans in November 2009.

Under Ofwat's Periodic Review, water companies must plan investments in looking after the environment, maintaining and protecting assets against flooding, and securing long-term, sustainable water and sewerage services. Several associated organisations, including the Environment Agency, make formal comments on these plans.

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