Despite the protection of water bodies being integral to the prosperity of agricultural, fishing and manufacturing industries, UK water quality requires significant and urgent improvement. Only 16% of surface water bodies assessed in England were classified as being in either high or good standard by DEFRA in 2017, compared with 26% in 2011. Furthermore, increasing pollution levels have contributed towards the number of healthy rivers declining in England from 27% in 2010 to 14% in 2017. The WWF have subsequently warned that the continuation of this trend may result in there not being any healthy rivers left by 2025 (WWF, 2017).
In response to this issue, the Government updated River Basement Management Plans (RBMPs) in 2015, aiming to improve a minimum of 680 waters (14%) by 2021 through £3bn of investment. This includes the improvement of 295 surface water bodies (6.3%) in England by at least one ecology status class. These actions form part of the UK’s ongoing commitment to the EU Water Framework Directive (EUWFD), seeking to ensure zero deterioration of all water bodies by 2027 and beyond. Domestically, the government is still working through the implementation of Biodiversity 2020, aiming to build greater resilience within Britain’s wildlife and ecosystems.
However, RBMPs have yet to become an essential component of an ambitious 25 year environment plan, announced in 2015 and anticipated in 2017. After opposition parties raised concerns over the future of the strategy post-Brexit, DEFRA admitted they do not “have a timeframe on the 25 year plan as yet” (Independent, June 2017). Moreover, action is still required to tackle unregulated and indirect sources of rural and urban diffuse pollution having an enormous impact upon water quality. Furthermore, the Drinking Water Inspectorate recorded that in 2016, there were 182 significant and serious water quality incidents. (DWI, 2016).
With the introduction of the new water protocol for England and Wales, this symposium will provide a timely and invaluable opportunity for local authorities, non-departmental public bodies, water companies, the environmental sector and other key stakeholders to engage with the Government’s objectives to maximise water quality, and explore how local communities can find cost-effective ways to further tackle pollution and improve our water environment.