According to the UK Environment Agency, water companies in England and Wales must invest more in maintenance to improve the environment and reduce the risk of pollution incidents.
Last year, it said that 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 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 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. Such flooding 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 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: ‘Over the next few months, we will work closely with the water industry, Ofwat, and others to improve the (water companies’) draft documents into final business plans that represent the best solutions for the environment and 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.