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Securing water for the future

Climate change means that we will all have to value water more as we find a fairer way of paying for it, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, said today as he launched the Government’s water strategy for England, Future Water.

Climate change means that we will all have to value water more as we find a fairer way of paying for it, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, said today as he launched the Government’s water strategy for England, Future Water.

Hilary Benn said:

“Securing and maintaining water supplies is vital to the prosperity of the country and to the health of people and the environment. In some areas, current supplies are already unsustainable and this situation was exemplified by the drought in South East England between 2004 and 2006.

“These pressures are going to get worse as the climate changes, the economy grows, and population increases. Combined with the need to reduce CO2 emissions from the water industry and from our use of hot water in our homes, this means that we must find ways of improving efficiency, and of reducing demand and wastage.

“No one approach will work for all areas, but we must find ways of improving efficiency, and of reducing demand and wastage. That’s what this strategy will help deliver.”

The Strategy’s proposals include:

* The aim to reduce water usage to 120 litres per person per day by 2030 from the current level of roughly 150 litres per person per day, through a combination of efficient technology, metering and tariffs.

* An independent review into water charging. In particular, this will advise on the role of metering and charging in the future and whether there is a need to move beyond the current system where companies in seriously water stressed areas may introduce mandatory metering where there is a clear case for doing so. Any future changes would need to include measures, such as tariffs, that help vulnerable households.

* New proposals to tackle surface water drainage. A consultation is being launched today taking forward some of the key recommendations from Sir Michael Pitt’s lessons learned report following the summer 2007 floods. The proposals include introducing surface water management plans to co-ordinate activity, clarifying responsibilities for sustainable drainage systems, and reviewing the ability of new development to connect surface water automatically into the public sewer.

* New proposals to reduce water pollution by tackling contaminants at source. One early proposal is today’s publication of a consultation on controls on phosphate in domestic laundry cleaning products, considering both voluntary and regulatory control options. Excess phosphorus in water bodies disturbs the ecological balance by stimulating plant growth. Discussions with the cleaning products industry have indicated that the phasing out of phosphate in domestic laundry cleaning products would be feasible by the end of 2015.

* Action to deal with point sources of pollution (e.g. from industrial processes and sewage treatment works) and use River Basin Management Plans under the Water Framework Directive to tackle direct pollution to water such as from agriculture and run off from urban areas.

* Change to existing rules so that planning permission is not required for paving front gardens provided porous materials are used.

Mr Benn said:

“The independent review will assess the effectiveness and fairness of different methods of charging, including metering and tariffs, and make recommendations. Our current system of charging, based largely on the value of people’s homes 35 years ago, is archaic and rife with anomalies. We need a fairer system that offers incentives to conserve water. In areas of serious water stress it’s pretty clear that this will mean near universal metering before 2030. The review will consider how to protect vulnerable groups, like those on low incomes and the elderly.

“Alongside looking at how we use and pay for water, we also must look at how water affects us. Since accepting all 15 urgent recommendations of the Pitt Review into the 2007 summer floods we are already taking action to address a number of the key issues, including seeking views from stakeholders on how the Environment Agency might take on the strategic role for all forms of inland flooding – including surface water.”

Other points from the strategy include:

* Bringing water companies within the scope of the Carbon Reduction Commitment scheme, which sets targets for industry to reduce its emissions. The water industry has made a commitment to a 20 per cent target for renewable energy by 2020 and will research how it might better manage non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions from wastewater treatment.

* Progress being made on mapping surface water and groundwater flooding. The Environment Agency is currently looking at modelling approaches which could be used for these purposes. Government committed to follow up on Sir Michael Pitt’s recommendation that we explore a long term approach to investment in flood and erosion risk management and the Environment Agency is leading a project looking at this.

* Defra will consult later this year on proposals to make the abstraction licensing system more able to cope with the challenges of climate change so that we can maintain a balance between demand for essential supplies and protection of wildlife and aquatic environments. In 2009 a National Policy Statement will be published, setting out Government views on the need for major new infrastructure such as new reservoirs.

* Continued support for farmers on Catchment Sensitive Farming. Full details of this will be announced in due course.

* The launch of a public consultation on draft statutory Social and Environmental Guidance to Ofwat, the independent economic regulator of the water industry. In reflecting the policies set out in Future Water, it is one of the means by which the Strategy’s priorities can begin to be delivered. The consultation launched today alongside the Water Strategy will run for 12 weeks, after which the guidance will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.

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