Lords report warns of urgent need to plan for an uncertain future for water resources

Europe is not doing enough to prepare itself for an uncertain future for the continent’s water sources, according to a report published by the Lords Select Committee today.

The report, An Indispensable Resource: EU Freshwater Policy, is timely, as the UK continues to suffer the worst drought since 1976, and areas throughout Europe are feeling the effects of a signfiicant lack of rain.

In it, the Committee calls for urgent action to safeguard the quality and long-term availability of the UK’s water sources, and recommends that all EU Member States should be required to develop national water scarcity and drought management plans. It warns that the UK Government’s current schedule for reforming water abstraction regulations fails to respond to the urgency of the situation; despite acknowledging that 10% of rivers are already abstracted to an extent that may damage water ecosystems, the government has set the target of the mid to late 2020s to begin reforming the regime. The Committee warns that this may be too late.

Other recommendations in the report include a push for the government and European Commission to strongly promote catchment level governance in the Blueprint for Europe’s water resources, due to be published later this year. This will require a much greater emphasis on engaging local stakeholders – such as river trusts, farmers and anglers – in decisions relating to river catchment issues, in order to reconnect people with the value of water. Already, the UK government has expressed support for a number of ‘catchment management’ pilot schemes, and Defra has a launched a ‘Love your River’ campaign aimed at raising awareness of the importance of healthy river systems.

The report also contains a warning for the government that where other solutions to water scarcity have failed, the potentially unpopular choice to raise water prices may have to be taken. As Chair of the Committee, Lord Carter of Coles says “Governments…need to act decisively, and grasp the nettle of allowing the cost of water to rise”. However, he suggests that commitment by the government to a programme of publc and stakeholder engagment will help ease the introduction of this necessary price rise, as people gain a better understanding of what they are paying extra for.

The report is the outcome of an inquiry by the Committee into EU Freshwater Policy.