Catchment initiatives feature in final water environment programme

Holistic management of water catchments to improve drinking water quality and quantity, reduce flooding and deliver a host of other benefits are featured in the Environment Agency’s final list of schemes it wants to see funded in the 2009 water industry price review (PR09).

The Environment Agency has finalised the programme of environmental improvements it wants water companies to fund in their 2010-2015 investment plans.1

The National Environment Programme, as it is known, forms an important input into the PR09 water industry price review which will culminate in financial regulator Ofwat setting price limits for the sector in November.

The Agency produced its draft NEP in April last year (ENDS Report 399, p 39 ) with most measures being subsequently included in companies’ draft business plans. The finalised programme is intended to inform firms’ final business plans which they must submit in April.

"We expect the environment programme to cost the industry about £5 billion, but we hope the costs will come down as water companies find more efficient ways to deliver," the Agency’s head of water resources Ian Barker told ENDS.

The final NEP includes an extra 72 schemes and investigations connected with the water framework Directive. These are required to help achieve the Directive’s goal of good ecological status and will have been included in the draft river basin management plans published by the Agency in December (see pp 42-43).

"We are encouraging companies to think long-term about impacts on carbon emissions and operating costs," Mr Barker said. All 72 are catchment management initiatives where improvements in land use and management may improve drinking water. Only two are schemes currently being put into practice.

One is United Utilities’ sustainable catchment management programme (SCaMP) which began in the last price review (ENDS Report 378, pp 20-21 ). It focuses on improving Biodiversity Action Plan habitats such as blanket bog and woodland to stem soil erosion and boost the quality of runoff water. Other benefits include improved biodiversity, greater water retention, reduced flood risk and an increase in soil carbon storage. The programme initially operated on 20,000 hectares of United Utilities-owned land in Lancashire and the Peak District, but a second phase is included in the NEP to extend the scheme to 30,000ha of company land in Lancashire and Cumbria.

Another proposal is South West Water’s ‘Mires on the Moors’ project. A pilot is already under way restoring 1,000ha of blanket bog in Exmoor by blocking drainage ditches, allowing water retention and the regrowth of peat-forming sphagnum moss.

The NEP includes a proposal to extend the pilot to almost four times the original area, preventing the release of an estimated 3,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and locking up an extra 4,500 tonnes. As with SCaMP, improved water quality, flood prevention and biodiversity benefits are also anticipated.

A third proposal being included, Working Wetlands, is led by the Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT). It promises to deliver improved river quality, flood resilience, drought alleviation and biodiversity benefits in the so-called Culm grasslands of north Devon. These unimproved grasslands are a feature of the headwaters of the rivers Taw, Tamar and Torridge but have now become a rare habitat. The DWT is seeking to restore and recreate degraded grasslands, secure funding support for long term management and provide advice to landowners.

South West Water’s roles will be as a funding source and also to monitor changes resulting in water quality and quantity.

Further catchment investigations include:

  • 17 South West Water investigations to find out if catchment improvements can reduce the risks of pollution from crypto-sporidium, pesticides, turbidity, algae and colour.
  • 35 Severn Trent Water investigations to see if land use changes can reverse the rising level of nitrate in Midlands sandstone aquifers.
  • Ten further Severn Trent investigations to investigate potential for improvements in surface water pesticide, nitrate, phosphate and lead levels.
  • Three Wessex Water investigations into cutting phosphate levels in lakes and reservoirs.
  • Two investigations by South Staffordshire and one by Thames Water into whether catchment solutions can reduce pesticide contamination.

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