DEFRA launches water strategy

The government today responded to recent flooding and droughts with Future Water - a strategy setting out policies to encourage the more sustainable use of water and the water environment

The major planks of the new strategy include targets to cut water use, a review of water charging and moves to implement the Pitt review’s interim findings on surface water flooding.

Consultation documents have also been launched on improving surface water drainage, removing phosphates from domestic laundry detergents and on draft guidance to the industry financial regulator Ofwat on its social and environmental responsibilities.

The strategy proposes a target to cut domestic water use by 13% 2030, from 150 litres per person per day to 130. The target is to be achieved through technology, metering and tariffs. However, the Environment Department (DEFRA) is also spouting a more ambitious 120-litre target which ministers say is “dependent on technology”.

The target will be underpinned by an independent review of water charging. This will consider the potential for metering and tariffs to deliver water savings while maintaining support for low-income households.

One focus of the review will be the scope for new tariffs to save water, many of which will require more advanced ‘smart’ meters. Others will be the need to replace charging by historic rateable values and to address the impact of the steady rise in unmetered water charges. These have drifted upward as low water users have shifted to paying by volume.

On water quality, the strategy anticipates river basin management planning, required by the water framework Directive, and stresses the need to address pollutant inputs at source. The long-overdue move to restrict phosphate use in laundry detergents is part of this, but the strategy also emphasises the need to encourage farmers to address diffuse inputs and businesses to stop discharging fats and oils to sewer.

On drainage, DEFRA consults separately on the introduction of surface water management plans and on encouraging sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS). The consultation offers three options on the key issue of who should maintain the structures: local authorities, water companies or specially created undertakings. The Scottish solution – of splitting above and below ground parts between councils and sewerage undertakers respectively – has “so far not provided a satisfactory way forward”, it notes.

Ministers want to see an end to householders paving over their gardens, and suggest this will require planning permission unless permeable paving is used to allow infiltration of surface water. The strategy also moots an end to the automatic right to connect to surface water drains to encourage more sustainable drainage options.

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