In recent months, i has rightly been shining a spotlight on the unacceptable levels of pollution threatening our rivers. This pollution – from sewage, agriculture, forever chemicals and other sources – is harming not just the delicate eco-systems and native wildlife that rely on a clean water supply, but also the health of swimmers and others who make use of the water.
This is combined with the increasing impacts of a growing population and climate change, which are putting pressure on the health and supply of water in our rivers, lakes and reservoirs.
That is why we have announced our Integrated Plan for Water – because we must look at the complex issues of our water quality and our water quantity in the round.
Echoing the calls from the public and this newspaper for water and sewage companies to be held to greater account, our plan contains actions specifically aimed at making sure they deliver the urgent improvements in delivery and performance that consumers rightly expect to see from them. That includes more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement on polluters.
Working with Ofwat, we are instructing water companies to bring forward over £1.6bn of investment, which includes £1bn on storm overflow improvements that will tackle sewage spills.
Alongside this, we are changing the law to increase the scope and maximum amount the Environment Agency can penalise water companies for damaging the environment, so that they can bring about swifter penalties. Our consultation launches this week, which includes our preferred option of unlimited penalties. And where fines are imposed by the courts, we will redirect that money into projects that are focused on restoring nature and cleaning up our waterways.
We must clamp down on other forms of pollution too. That is why we will look at banning sales of wet wipes containing plastic; bringing in new restrictions on the use of “forever” chemicals (PFAS) found in our rivers and seas and more than doubling the grant money we give to farmers for slurry infrastructure to reduce pollution from agriculture.
Save Britain’s Rivers
The disgusting state of our rivers is a national scandal. People and wildlife are suffering because water firms pump untreated sewage into our rivers and seas – and the problem is getting worse.
i and our sister title, New Scientist, the world’s leading science magazine, have launched a joint campaign – a unique collaboration between two trusted publishers.
Here is a selection of recent articles from our Save Britain’s Rivers campaign:
Managing the threat from hotter, drier summers is a big priority too and making sure we have enough water for us all. So we are streamlining the planning process with a new National Policy Statement for Water Resources which will provide a framework for decision making on planning applications so that key water supply infrastructure – such as reservoirs and water transfer schemes – can be built more quickly and we will be supporting farmers to store more water on their land. Minimum product standards for showers, taps and toilets, as well as water efficiency labelling, will help us save water in our own homes. So we can all play our part in conserving our precious resources.
Our Environmental Improvement Plan, published in January, set out the Government’s five-year delivery plan to protect and restore nature – including ambitious targets on water. The Integrated Plan for Water shows how we will deliver on those targets and more so that we can have a clean and plentiful water supply for all.
Rebecca Pow is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environmental Quality and Resilience