UK water firms are being urged to co-develop and jointly adopt a new long-term sustainability strategy for the sector, set to have an overarching aim of the industry “having the most positive impact possible on society and the environment”.
The call to action is being jointly made by the UK Government, regulator Ofwat and consumer body the Consumer Council for Water, which have asked water companies to submit advice to be used to shape the new vision online today (2 May).
This process will help to create the detail of the vision, called Water Stories. Following discussions with sector stakeholders, the organisations behind the project have already confirmed that the finalised manifesto will cover three key themes: delivering everyday excellence as consumer demands change; long-term stewardship of the environment and the need to add value which is both financial and of benefit to communities and nature.
Ofwat has published what it calls an “emerging” version of the strategy – a draft, which can now be shaped by actors across the sector ahead of its finalisation later this year. Among the measures included in this document are outcome-based environmental incentives, to be reset every five years; more support for green innovations, both for consumers and for water companies; and a requirement for all water companies to set sustainability targets reaching 15 or more years into the future.
Ofwat’s chief executive Rachel Fletcher said the creation of the vision will help create an “ambitious new direction” for the water sector.
“The challenges the sector faces are profound – but if we work together and show real ambition, we can make a meaningful and lasting difference to customers, the environment and society and, in doing so, make our children’s generation proud and become an industry others look to for inspiration,” she said.
The final manifesto is due to be published this autumn, but a set date is yet to be confirmed. Stakeholders wishing to contribute to its development are being asked to use #WaterStories on social media, or to email Ofwat directly.
The launch of the Water Stories consultation comes shortly after research from Blueprint for Water, part of the Wildlife and Countryside Link – the largest environment coalition in England – found that the UK’s largest water companies are broadly increasing their environmental ambitions and investments.
But while the study found that water suppliers’ five-year plans for 2019 indicate a “positive step change in environmental ambition from the water sector” compared with the previous planning period, with £5bn set to be invested in improvements within the next five years, it also highlighted gaps in ambition, action and investment surrounding sewage leaks and natural capital.