Speech by Water Minister Rebecca Pow at the World Water-Tech Innovation Summit.
Greater Turnout Than Ever Before
I’m very delighted to be here to speak at this event, and I just first of all wanted to start by thanking the organizers for rethinking, and everybody who has been involved in getting this event together. I gather that they’ve had a greater turnout than ever before, which I think really signals how important this issue now is. And actually, I’ve arrived early enough to have a look around some of the stands, which is pretty inspirational, I think we all agree. I’ve seen everything from sewage blocker detectors, to leakage spotters to flood mapping schemes so there’s all kinds of tech going on here that link into this space.
Water is one of the central planks of my role as the Minister for Environmental Quality & Resilience at Defra and the more I have been involved in this space – about three years now – the more I realize how complicated this landscape is, which I am sure you are all fully aware of, and the more it becomes apparent the need for all of these strands of this enormous water landscape to come together. Even in the UK, (where of course you are aware it does normally rain a lot), we are not immune to the impacts of climate change, and that brings with it on the one hand floods and on the other hand drought and we actually had drought, quite severe drought this summer in most parts of the country. Then you’ve got the impacts of the growing population, with increasing demand – all of these things impact both on our water supply and pollution.
Key Areas Of Policy
I am going to outline some of the key areas that relate to our water policy and I think that it will become clear that we will need to harness these opportunities, to harness tech and so forth, in order to get to where we actually need to be. Five years ago, we published our 25 Year Environment Plan, setting out our vision to help the natural world regain and retain its good health. Since then, that laid the foundation stones, to set us on a sustainable trajectory for the future. That includes passing our landmark Environment Act 2021, that I was proud to steer through our parliament. That was a huge piece of legislation which really set the agenda on water for us as well as other things restoring natural habitats, increasing biodiversity, reducing waste and making better use of our resources.
A year ago we also published our Strategic Policy Statement for Ofwat, the water regulator, and that clearly sets out our priorities for them and water companies to enhance water quality and deliver a resilient and sustainable water supply. The Statement promotes efficient investment, ensuring it is made in a way that secures long-term resilience and protects and enhances the environment, whilst delivering value for money for customers and society in the long-term because we always have to remember of course cost to the consumer paying their water bills. That is something we always have to factor in. For the next price review period, 2025-2030, we expect water companies and regulators to be outcome-focused, innovative and integrate actions across catchments, working in partnership with other organizations.
Our ambitions require significant investment in infrastructure, and investment by the water industry should be maximized through co-funding with other sectors and green finance opportunities. That’s what I can see where lots of the showcases here today under discussion, opportunities which we do encourage people to take. We have already seen some exciting innovations in this area. For example, EnTrade’s first project in the Poole Harbour catchment, in the south of England, incentivised farmers to grow winter crops on their fields to reduce nitrates leaching into the ground. Because of course our farming industry has a significant impact on what happens to water with the runoff and so forth coming from what they put onto the land. This was a pilot project that was launched as an alternative to Wessex Water investing £6 million in a new treatment plant.
Cleaning up our water sources is a top priority. The issue of the far too frequent use of emergency storm sewage overflows is totally unacceptable and quite rightly the public are not happy with this. If you have been following the British press you will have probably heard a great deal about sewage in water. I actually feel I have been somewhat immersed in sewage for a long time.
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