Water Industry National Environment Programme under consultation

Photo by Jan Muehlbach on Unsplash

The Environment Agency and Ofwat have set out the review of the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP).

The WINEP, which sets out the actions water companies need to undertake to improve the environment, has delivered significant benefits to water quality, biodiversity and water resources over the last 30 years, including increasing the proportion of “excellent” bathing waters from less than a third to over two thirds.

In recent years, however, improvements to the overall quality of the water environment have ‘plateaued.’

Climate change and biodiversity challenges, as well as population growth and emerging chemical contaminants, are reported to be further offsetting progress.

Ofwat’s interim Chief Executive, David Black, commented on the announcement: “The WINEP has delivered great improvements by investing billions of pounds to deliver long-term benefits for the environment, customers and communities across England.

“Given the significant challenges we face as a sector and as society, including on river quality, net zero, biodiversity and flood resilience, we need to ensure the WINEP evolves to best meet these challenges.

“We must be ambitious and flexible in our approach, focusing on the outcomes we want to see and achieving the greatest value for every pound invested.

“We want to facilitate greater use of nature-based solutions, as well as more collaborative and partnership working to help us deliver on shared ambitions.

“In that spirit, I encourage all interested parties to pitch in their views at this consultation stage to help us shape the programme so it delivers maximum benefit for society and the environment.”

Proposed changes to WINEP include:

  • Moving to a programme that is ‘outcome rather than output-focused’ – this means water companies will be expected to deliver wider environmental outcomes that go beyond their statutory duties, such as contributing to habitat restoration and sustainable water management. This shift reflects the changing challenges of the environment, and will enable companies to deliver environmental improvements in a more flexible and efficient way.
  • Allowing a more flexible planning approach, where measures will have up to a 25-year scope for delivery, with an update taking place every five years to account for new information and technologies.
  • Using more catchment and nature-based solutions – such as establishing wetlands for water treatment – in light of growing recognition that these offer lower-carbon solutions and wider benefits for biodiversity.
  • Drawing more on the expertise and resources of other catchment partners, such as wildlife trusts, landowners and local authorities which are trying to achieve the same environmental improvements as water companies. This means working on co-development, co-delivery and co-funding of environmental solutions.
  • Greater role for the water sector in developing the WINEP so water companies work in closer partnership with the Environment Agency and Natural England to develop the WINEP for their area to give more effective and innovative solutions.

More information about the ‘Review of the water industry national environment programme’-consultation and how to take part is available on the UK Government website.