On 9th August 2018, Ofwat released a joint letter with Defra, the Environment Agency, and the Drinking Water Inspectorate, in which they set out the steps they think are needed to build resilience in water resources management in England:
- Increased ambition in the forthcoming company business plans for the 2020 to 2025 period
- Regional water resource planning that transcends company boundaries and identifies optimum solutions for the region, and the nation as a whole
- Greater use of markets and competition to ensure solutions are delivered efficiently
- Clear, joined up direction from government and regulators
- A responsive regulatory approach to deal with issues as they arise
It is clear from this list that the role of regional groups for water resource planning and management is becoming very important: it is acknowledged that regional water resource planning allows for “greater coordination of water resource management plans is required to meet the challenges we face”. The letter provides direct, written, expectation from the regulators on water companies “to commit time and money” to regional planning that transcends company boundaries and identifies optimum solutions for the region, by assessing the feasibility of regional and inter-regional solutions including strategic transfers and strategic water storage infrastructure.
This approach is a confirmation of that taken by the WRSE in many planning cycles, and the regulators have particularly recognised the work that has been done to date by the WRSE group.
The regulators’ ambition for the WRSE and other regional groups, is to:
- Produce regional plans that feed directly into individual water company plans and explore inter regional transfers as part of the planning process
- Engage with other water users to develop cross-sector solutions
- Work with regional groups such as the Northern Powerhouse and Local Economic Partnerships to understand regional economic and population forecasts
There is further expectation expressed that regional groups will fully explore the role of markets in delivering their strategic water resource solutions.
The WRSE welcomes this letter and the movement towards greater regional national coordination and management of water resources. However, we note that the letter states that, “water company plans will remain the statutory requirement for the next planning round.” There are many reasons and way in which company plans can differ from the regional strategy, and if regional plans remain voluntary and advisory in nature, companies must abide by the views expressed by their customers. As such, this may hinder the adoption of regionally and nationally resilient approaches, and the optimal management of our scarce water resources.