The Water White Paper: A Welcome Start – But Where is the Will to Win?

Salmon & Trout Association fears lack of commitment in key areas

Water for Life, the Government’s plan for future water management, is now published. It acknowledges that Britain faces a future of water shortages, and lasting environmental damage, with some rivers running dry, unless attitudes to water use change dramatically. It promises a new approach to water management to mitigate the severe weather events, population growth and the need to grow more food that it predicts will impact on the aquatic environment in the future.

It outlines changes designed to promote a “more robust and prepared water industry” as well as encouraging water efficiency measures for water companies and consumers alike. Issues of abstraction are also addressed, with a promise of a reformed water abstraction regime over the long term, as well as a new catchment approach to dealing with water quality and wider environmental issues.

Paul Knight, Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) CEO, declares: “Of course, as a member of the Blueprint for Water group, we welcome what initiatives there are in the White paper. But we have grave concerns that too much emphasis is being placed on incentives to water companies, rather than a clear commitment to enforce existing legislation regarding water protection, particularly in areas of excessive abstraction. With drought a real threat in many parts of the country now, this is a critical matter.”

He points out that Water for Life includes several proposals for deregulating and simplifying legislation, to reduce burdens on business and stimulate growth. “Despite soothing words of reassurance, does this mean that abstraction licenses will be more readily available, or that water companies can obtain their water from unsustainable sources? For instance, the White paper includes plans to trade under utilised licenses, but can we be genuinely assured that this will not lead to increased abstraction in stressed areas? We are concerned that while individual proposals may seem sensible, a holistic approach to the problem is lacking, which could mean that, once again, our fragile aquatic environment is not sufficiently protected against increased degradation.”

He adds, “Everyone involved with the health of our aquatic environment knows that the framework of water management has to be sustainable and planned for the long-term. Our fear is that this important document falls short of the Government’s own commitments to deliver good ecological status, or at least potential, in all our rivers under the Water Framework Directive.”