Warning: Government River Pollution Targets Lack Ambition

Posted: Tuesday 2nd February 2010

The Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), the trade association linking over 300 firms in environmental technology and services, and 80 of the largest water technology companies, has warned that the Government’s river water quality targets are not ambitious enough.

The warning comes as the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) publishes its River Basin Management Plans for ten river basin districts in England and Wales. The plans outline how ‘good’ status river water quality will be achieved – according to stipulations set out in the European Union’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) – for each lake, stretch of a river, estuary or coastline.

The devil is in the detail, however. At present, only 21% of rivers inEnglandand 33% inWalesare of ‘good’ status. The Environment Agency, which will oversee the realisation of these targets, aims to achieve a proportion of just 26% and 35% by 2015 respectively. The WFD’s aim is for all water bodies in the UK to have achieved ‘good’ status by 2015.

Defra’s own research has shown that implementing the new measures could bring economic benefits of £3.6 billion. TheUKwater and wastewater management sector is currently worth almost £8 billion, and £240 billion globally. A report by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, ‘Low Carbon and Environmental Goods and Services: an industry analysis’, highlights the industry as having one of the highest levels of exports of any within the low-carbon and environmental sector, and a huge potential for worldwide market value growth. More ambitious WFD water quality targets will enhance this enormous growth potential.

This is also an important political issue. Already fifty-eight MPs have signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons (EDM 136), which calls on the Government to urge the Environment Agency to improve their targets for river cleanliness.

Commenting on Defra’s targets, Adrian Wilkes, Chief Executive of the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), said:

“Water is moving up the political agenda – and rightly so. Climate change will mean drier summers. Water resources are declining in many areas.

“Yet sadly the Government is planning to move too slowly on the critical issue of river water cleanliness. Their level of ambition is disappointingly low. There is a lack of leadership here from Defra, which ought to be urgently pressing the Environment Agency to beef up its plans. These targets need to be part of an integrated package for giving the vulnerable future of water supply the attention it deserves.”

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