Thursday, December 08, 2011

Defra tackles water shortages but ignores carbon

drought conditions

Defra's new vision for water management ignores the industry's carbon emissions.

Defra has set out its plans to protect the future water supplies of the country, and how water companies should become more efficient, but has failed to link water use to measures to tackle climate change.

The new White Paper, 'Water for Life', also explains how river water quality will be improved with the help of local organisations, and pledges to reform the water industry with further deregulation “to drive economic growth".

Business and public sector customers will be able to negotiate better services from their suppliers in order to cut their costs, the Paper says.

Market reform will also remove barriers that have discouraged new companies from entering the water market, which is currently supplied by 23 firms.

The Paper incorporates nearly all of the recommendations from the Environment Agency on industry governance, with one notable exception: whereas the Agency dedicates many recommendations to reducing the carbon emissions associated with water use, the White Paper completely ignores this.

The White Paper does take on board the EA's recommendations for more national management of water supply, by developing the concept of water trading and interconnecting pipelines.

Water companies will also be able to set new social tariffs for people who struggle to pay their bills, and there will be measures to tackle bad debt, which results in householders carrying the can for those who can't or won't pay, to the cost of £15 per year each.

Measures are also outlined to compensate those in the South West for the “historic unfairness" of water infrastructure in the region, by pledging to reduce their bills by £50.

Tackling water shortage

Launching the Paper, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: “Currently we enjoy clean water at the turn of a tap, and watch it drain away without a thought. But parts of England actually have less rainfall per person than many Mediterranean countries."

Unprecedented dry weather conditions this year, and low water levels, led Anglian Water last week to ask the Environment Agency for a drought permit, in December.

The Agency says that if the dry winter continues, more drought permits are likely to be sought because river and reservoir levels across south east England are well below average.

“Making sure we’ve got enough water for everyone is going to be one of the major challenges this country will have to deal with in the years ahead. With water expected to be less predictable as time goes on we all have to play our part in ensuring our water supply remains secure,” said Caroline Spelman.

As Aecom Water regional director Peter Robinson has observed, household water use has to be rethought as the population of the south east of England is projected to grow over the next 25 years.

Not tackling carbon emissions

The White Paper contains much about how the water regime needs to change drastically in order to reduce the risks associated with climate change, such as water scarcity and environmental damage.

However, one glaring omission from the Water White Paper is that there is no mention of the carbon content of water, a matter of deep concern that has been raised by both the Energy Saving Trust and the Environment Agency.

The last available annual figures show that the UK water industry as a whole emitted five million tonnes of greenhouse gases through treating and supplying clean water, and dealing with wastewater and sewerage. This is 0.8% of the U.K.'s greenhouse gas emissions.

The Environment Agency has calculated that when household and water company emissions are considered together, 89% of emissions in the water system can be attributed to ‘water in the home’, which includes energy for heating water but excludes space/central heating.

The remaining 11% of emissions originate from abstracting, treating and supplying water, and subsequent wastewater treatment.

The Agency recommends, in its last bulletin on the subject, that any proposed supply options, such as a new reservoir or desalination plant, must be evaluated on a scheme by scheme assessment basis so to select the lowest carbon solution.

But the White Paper fails to address these concerns, except to say that some domestic water conservation measures, such as paying for water butts, will be covered by the Green Deal.

Catchment area management

Many of the policies in the White Paper also stem from the EU Water Framework Directive, which represents a long-term, sensible and radical overhaul of Europe's water management systems.

The White Paper takes credit for fostering a change to the way our water resources are managed to a catchment area-based system. This is actually the system that has been developed for the last twelve years in the Water Framework Directive (the Framework documents call it a River Basin Management Plan).

The reason for this approach is that water does not respect administrative boundaries, whether local authority or national ones, so only a catchment-based management system makes sense.

It means that neighbouring local authorities sharing the same catchment area must cooperate over its management.

According to the timetable of the Water Framework Directive, pricing policies at a national level should have been set in 2010 and operational programmes of measures are due to be introduced next year, with environmental objectives having been met by 2015.

Defra's White Paper acknowledges that the Environment Agency is already carrying out ten pilot schemes to test catchment-based management and is pressurising water companies to meet their obligations to produce River Basin Management Plans.

Farmers are being encouraged to change their land management processes to reduce contamination of waterways, particularly from nitrate pollution, and Defra is looking into simplifying the red tape regulating this area.

The government is also trying to get reforms made to the Common Agricultural Policy to help farmers adopt more of a custodial role for the natural environment.

More deferred action

Urban diffuse pollution of water courses is also a problem. Unfortunately its solution is being deferred; this is not tackled in today's paper but will be subject to a different national strategy to be published next year.

The Paper also outlines methods to improve bathing water standards around the U.K.'s coast; but they won't come in until 2015.

Water companies will have more pressure put on them to restore abstraction from their waterways to more sustainable levels in the price review process, but again this will be subject to a separate consultation next year, along with one on national standards for SuDS (Sustainable urban drainage systems) and a new approval system for sustainable drainage.

A National Policy Statement for Waste Water is also expected imminently. This will look at how planning for new sewage treatment facilities should be managed.

At the same time, Defra will look at using its powers to remove permission given to water companies to abstract water, without having to give them compensation for doing so. Barriers to trading in abstraction licences will also be reduced.

Water meters?

There has been much talk about whether water meters should be compulsorily introduced everywhere, for example in the Walker Review, of the water industry, and whether smart meters could be used which would benefit consumers through reduced costs.

The White Paper argues that it should be up to water companies themselves to decide whether to install meters in people's homes.

The draft Water Bill will be published in early 2012.

No comments: