Utility Week

Utility Week 1st November 2013

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Policy & Regulation Analysis Catchment if you can Carmen Paun reports on what we have learned from the first phase of catchment management pilots driven by the Water Framework Directive, and where we go next. T he Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has yet to decide whether managing water supplies on a catchment area basis is a positive move overall, but it is happy that the past two years' pilot projects have yielded some tangible benefits. The pilots were prompted by the 2000 European Water Framework Directive (WFD). A Defra policy paper published in May argued that catchment-based management was useful "when trying to address the significant pressures placed on the water environment by diffuse pollution from both agricultural and urban sources, and widespread, historical alterations to the natural form of channels". One key question has been how small these management units should be. This was addressed in pilot projects running between 2011 and 2013: ten were managed by the Environment Agency and 15 were overseen by river trusts, water companies or community organisations. Pilots took place on catchments of the rivers Tyne, Eden and Esk in northern England; Tame, Teme, Welland, Nene and Leam in central England; the Avon in the southwest; and the Adur and Ouse in the southeast. The initiative was focused mainly on England, with a small number of pilots covering catchments between England and Wales and England and Scotland. According to an Environment Agency spokesperson, local arrangements were made in the case of these cross-border catchments, including organisations from all regions involved. The purpose of the pilots was, as announced by then environment, water and rural affairs minister Richard Benyon in March 2011, to "provide a clear understanding of the issues in the catchment, involve local communities in decision-making by sharing evidence, listening to their ideas, working out priorities for action and seeking to deliver integrated actions that address local issues in a cost effective way and protect local resources". Two years later, a final evaluation report from Cascade Consulting for Defra said the 14 | 1st - 7th November 2013 | UTILITY WEEK results of the pilot projects include a better understanding of catchment pressures and problems, plus stronger (and in some cases new) partnerships between water supply managers and regulators. "The approach has led to a broader understanding and participation in catchment assessment, catchment walkovers, data sharing and monitoring activities," said Cascade. There have also been improvements to water quality, habitats, biodiversity and fisheries, and in some cases better urban drainage and flood risks plans. However, the work takes time, effort and money, and the briefing paper noted that the "actual monetised environmental and social benefits" were difficult to quantify. Partly this was because it took longer than 12 months for the benefits to become apparent and partly because technical expertise in cost-benefit analysis in the field was hard to come by. "The benefits of some of the catchment plans can be realised in five to ten years and the water companies work with the regulators only over five year cycles," Neil Dhot, head of corporate affairs at Water UK tells Utility Week. This puts water companies in a quandary: what resources should they invest in working with partners in managing catchments and how can they recover their investments? Even if proper water catchment management may help customers' bills fall over time, "it's difficult to get customers to accept bigger bills now", says Dhot. Worse, companies are not yet sure how catchment plans will affect water bills. "We are still trying to work this out and we don't know yet if bills will increase or decrease in the long run," Dhot says. This uncertainty will be played out when water companies submit their business plans for the 2015-20 asset management plan period. Dhot says: "There is an expectation from the government that companies can take the lead [in catchment management], but practically it can be hard." Getting other organisations involved in catchment management, such as local authorities, is one complication. This may require more government controls over catchment partnership schemes. Managing collaboration was a key lesson learned, Arlin Rickard, chief executive at umbrella group The Rivers Trust, tells Utility Week. She cites as an example the River Eden catchment in Cumbria, which is strategic for water supplies, a salmon fishery and biodiversity. It was co-ordinated by the Eden Rivers Trust and the challenges related to flooding, says Rickard. "The Rivers Trust pilots found that the full engagement and empowerment of stakeholders was key, in particular ensuring that farmers and water companies were fully involved." Rickard adds that the availability of data was sometimes a challenge, because in some cases intellectual property rights restricted circulation. There was also a need for sophisticated geographic information systems to visualise and share data in the catchment partnerships. Rickard is a supporter of the catchmentbased approach promoted by the WFD. But others are not so convinced. Nigel Watson, of Lancaster University's Environment Centre, thinks they are going about it wrong. He argues in a report that uncertainties about future government policies and funding have made catchment co-ordinators cautious. Moreover, "the priorities of the host organisations, the interests represented through established networks and the levels of support shown by landowners have had a strong bearing on the interpretation or 'framing' of the catchment-based approach". Watson calls for a firmer government hand at the local level to ensure catchment policies are not captured by local interests. Drawing on this and pilot project assessments, Defra and the Environment Agency in mid-September chose participants for new catchment partnership groups covering England, as well as border catchments with Scotland and Wales. There will be around 100 catchment or sub-catchment groups going forward this autumn with close to 100 per cent coverage of England. Carmen Paun is a freelance journalist

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