Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP) & WISER: A Quick Guide
To help water companies around the UK improve the environment, reduce flood risks, comply with legal requirements and build resilience for both the environment and customers, the Environment Agency and Natural England have published a series of water industry strategic environmental requirements – or WISER.
The document sets out the issues and opportunities that suppliers should take into account when meeting their environmental obligations, as well as how they should increase their level of ambition.
The expected practice for water companies are organised around three objectives: To achieve a thriving, natural environment, expected performance and compliance, and resilience for the environment and customers.
Over the last 12 years, no significant improvement has been seen in the overall ecological status of waterbodies in England, with just 16 per cent currently at good ecological status.
And, naturally, water companies have an important role to play in delivering clean and plentiful water as part of the 25 Year Environment plant, bringing at least three-quarters of waterways as close to their natural state as soon as is practicable.
In the last 30 years, good progress has been made on the part of water companies around the country in enhancing water quality, the landscape has changed somewhat in line with climate change and pressures are increasing day by day.
We’re now faced with a more extreme climate, with a rise seen in unpredictable and intense rainfall, coupled with more frequent periods of prolonged drought. In addition, further pressure will be put on water resources and supplies by population growth, with an additional six million people expected by 2043.
Protecting and restoring the water environment can help tackle many of the challenges the UK faces – but, if nothing changes, rivers around the country could see up to 80 per cent less water in summer by 2050, making it impossible for supply to meet demand.
The government has set out key priorities for water companies to focus on, including reducing nutrient pollution from wastewater treatment works, significantly reducing all pollution incidents and achieving zero serious incidents, and restoring protected sites like chalk streams.
As detailed in the WISER document, the Environment Agency’s vision for the water industry is a thriving natural environment, one that delivers increased environmental value, a sustainably functioning ecosystem and healthy rivers, coastal waters, wetlands and lakes.
Performance and compliance standards would deliver service excellence for customers, society as a whole and the environment, as well as resilient safe and affordable water and wastewater services now and well into the future.
The government has also compiled a water industry national environment programme (WINEP) methodology that, for the first time, sets out the process for designing, developing and delivering the programme for England.
The aim is to enable greater delivery of the actions within the WINEP to leave the environment in a better state for future generations, as well as delivering more for customers and local communities.
Investment through this scheme is substantial, with £25 billion invested in the national environment programme since 1989. Between 20202 and 2025, it will make up for around £5.2 billion of asset improvements, monitoring, investigations and catchment interventions.
WINEP’s main role is to provide water suppliers with the information they need to carry out the requisite measures to meet environmental legislative requirements.
The methodology process was developed with the government’s five environmental principles for building a greener future in mind, with the aim being to offer the best opportunities for achieving environmental improvements.
It’s expected that the methodology will succeed in making real changes to proposals from water companies with regards to addressing environmental challenges and increasing flexibility.
It has been designed to have a longer-term focus, concentrate delivery on outcomes, support co-design, co-delivery and co-funding of solutions, make the best use of available data and support takeup of a systems and catchment-oriented approach to further innovation and collaboration.
WINEP methodology actions should be included as a core component of long-term enhancement strategies, with suppliers planning to a 25-year time horizon so that measures with longer lead-in times can be included more effectively.
Water companies are now being encouraged by the Environment Agency, Defra and Ofwat to work in partnership with other organisations, both within the sector and elsewhere so as to deliver on common goals.
Although an increasing role for partnerships is expected in the delivery of WINEP actions, water suppliers will continue to be solely responsible and accountable for the delivery of their statutory obligations, those required by law.
Customers will also not be expected to meet shortfalls in funding in the event of a co-funder withdrawing their support.
WINEP actions are expected to be closely aligned with other strategic plans, such as river basin management strategies, with milestones in the process expected to be adhered to so that regulators have enough time and evidence to consider the options and proposals, making decisions and allocating funding in sufficient time to meet delivery deadlines.
The water industry as a whole shows strong support for the efforts of government bodies and regulators to reform WINEP and introduce a WISER that delivers the very best possible outcomes for the natural environment.
Water UK notes that the methodologies are moving in the right direction, but maximum ambition must be seen from government and regulators to get as much done as possible in time for PR24.
It observed: “We believe incrementalist and status quo approaches will be insufficient given the climate and nature emergency and the need for a step-change on both mitigation and resilience (including environmental resilience).”
Other issues included the “the diminishing returns from chasing ever-lower parameters at ends-of-pipes for ever higher unit costs, government’s likely inflation and debt constraints over coming years, which are likely to place more emphasis on non-fiscal investment like bill payer funding, and the increased salience of river health among customers and society”.
The organisation concluded, saying that the seriousness of the climate emergency will require a long-term strategy and full alignment of WISER, WINEP and the 25-Year Environment Plan.
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