Latest biodiversity indicators show that between 2012 and 2017, there has been a 33% reduction of surface water bodies in England with high or good status (DEFRA, 2018). Moreover, roughly half of all groundwater bodies are not expected to reach good chemical status in time for 2021 targets. Whilst the total number of events has declined, serious pollution incidents continue to occur at an alarming rate. Over the last ten years, the amount of serious water pollution events caused by water companies has been consistent at around 60 incidents per year (Environment Agency, 2018). In 2017, Thames Water were dealt a record-breaking fine of £20.3 million after the company reportedly released 1.9 billion litres on untreated sewage into the Thames.
To promote national water quality, the Government revised its ‘River Basement Management Plans’ (RBMPs) in 2015, prioritising cross-sector collaboration and promoting stakeholders to take collective responsibility for the protection of our water environment. The Government’s long-awaited ‘25 Year Environment Plan’ has built on the existing framework, pledging to reduce water contamination and deliver, ‘clean and plentiful water by improving at least three quarters of our waters to be close to their natural state as soon as is practicable’ (DEFRA, 2018). The plan complements existing RBMPs, stipulating that by 2021 the amount of water bodies with sufficient water to uphold environmental standards will reach 82% to 90% for surface water bodies and from 72% to 77% for groundwater bodies.
Despite commitments by successive governments, key stakeholders including the water industry, agriculture and rural land managers, urban and transport bodies have substantial roles to play in safeguarding national water bodies. With major components of the Government’s strategic framework in place, delegates will scrutinise existing measures to maximise water quality at the national and local level. They will also determine cost-effective methods of tackling pollution and improving our water environment.