Water and the Environment
Maintaining the balance
As well as capturing water into storage reservoirs, water companies maintain supplies by abstracting water directly from rivers and from the groundwater aquifers that feed them. It’s crucial that we get the balance right, because if we take too much, we threaten the quality of the natural environment and the wildlife it supports. Only a quarter of water bodies are fully functioning ecosystems and the drive to increase this number is addressed in the Water Framework Directive.
The benefits of a clean, healthy aquatic environment are many:
- Clean water reduces the need for costly and carbon intensive treatment processes to make water supplies fit to drink
- Improved habitats support greater biodiversity
- Improved flood protection, and
- Good quality waters for bathing, angling and other leisure activities.
Defra’s 25-year Environment Plan sets out actions to help maintain sustainable supplies of water for future generations, recognising that this involves both reducing demand and increasing supply. The actions focus on: reforming the approach to water abstraction and addressing unsustainable abstraction; increasing water supply; and incentivising greater water efficiency and less personal use.
The health of our rivers and coastal waters has improved greatly during the past two decades, but there is still much to do. Together, we must all now focus on reducing pollution – from roads, farms and industrial estates; from the detergents we use to wash our cars or from the many products that find their way into our drains. Tackling pollution at its source is better for the environment and cheaper than water companies applying ‘end of pipe’ treatments which require energy, chemicals and can result in higher customer bills.
The Environment Agency State of the Environment Water Quality Report provides an assessment of water quality in England and the pressures it faces. The future pressures it identifies include: population pressure; climate change; emerging chemicals; plastic pollution; nanoparticles; and fracking.
Defra’s 25-year Environment Plan sets a goal of improving at least three quarters of our waters to be close to their natural state. It also sets out actions to minimise the risk of chemical contamination in our water.