Govt Unveils Plans To Improve Water Quality In England
The government has announced that investments to the tune of £5 billion will be made over the next five years to improve the quality of waterways across England and tackle pollution and climate change head on.
The plan brings together a range of measures to address the challenges presented by agricultural and water company pollution, as well as climate change and population growth, with various different external groups and organisations contributing to the action programme to ensure that ambitions are achieved.
Measures include the Water Industry National Environment Programme, which intends to deliver improvements in abstraction and wastewater treatment, and the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, which rewards farmers and landowners for protecting and improving the natural environment.
The Nature for Climate Fund, meanwhile, is intended to support the delivery of the England Tree Action Plan and England Peat Action Plan, while there are various regional river, estuary and coast restoration and flood management projects in the pipeline to restore natural river flows, improve water quality, prioritise habitat restoration and reduce flood risks.
These actions underpin the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan goal of ensuring that there is sufficient clean and plentiful water to meet England’s water needs in the future, with 78 per cent of surface waters now having been set the objective of reaching good ecological status or good ecological potential.
Currently, however, just 16 per cent of waterways in the country are classified as having good ecological status. Environment Agency estimates indicate that without appropriate investment beyond 2027 and if climate change impacts go unchecked, the number of waterways achieving good ecological status would drop to six per cent by 2043.
John Leyland, executive director of the Agency, said: “Whilst progress has been made to protect and enhance England’s waters, it is clear that considerable time and investment will still be needed if we are to see the further improvement in our water environment that we all want … The plans published today set out the next important steps we all need to take together.”
However, the announcement has drawn criticism from some quarters, with the Guardian reporting that the summary documents contained within the plan show that the target for all 3,651 waterways in the country to achieve good ecological and chemical status has now been pushed back to 2063.
Ali Morse, water policy manager for the Wildlife Trusts, explained that this new target means rivers, lakes and coastal waters won’t be healthy within the lifetimes of many UK residents, adding: “For too long, we have allowed our rivers and lakes to become poisoned, decimating aquatic wildlife and habitats.
“We need ambitious targets to repair the immense damage inflicted on our natural world. Instead, the government is comfortable with kicking action on rivers into the long grass. At this rate, a great deal of us will not see England’s rivers and lakes given a clean bill of health in our lifetimes – and that is nothing short of a tragedy.”
Ms Morse continued, saying that chemical pollution is the main reason why it will take so long for river health to recover, with urban runoff, agriculture and landfill sites all contributing to the problem. And, once these chemicals reach the environment, there is very little that can be done to remove them.
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