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Webinar recap: How can you lead locally on water quality?

Kitty Thompson, Senior Nature Programme Manager at CEN

Water quality has been the defining environmental issue of the last few years with only 15% of English rivers currently in good ecological health. Storm overflows and sewage spills continue to dominate the headlines, and other sources of pollution, like chemicals and microplastics, are becoming much better understood and more widely talked about.

We hosted a webinar to offer members of our network the chance to learn more about this important issue and how they can play their part in solving it. For this webinar, I was joined by:

The first part of the webinar was devoted to explaining the actions that the UK government has already taken to improve water quality across England. For example, the Environment Act 2021 included measures such as the new legally binding duty for water companies to progressively reduce the harm caused by storm overflow discharges, as well as targets to reduce levels of certain water pollutants. 

This has since been joined by the government’s Plan for Water which was launched in 2023 and included commitments such as the lifting of the cap of civil water company fines and use of the revenue raised from these fines to fund water restoration projects in England. This month this fund was officially launched with £11 million available for local organisations and councils to apply for.

Actions by the UK government to improve water quality across England is welcome, but there is still a long way to go to fully restore our waterways and the positive impact of the action that has already been taken will not be felt overnight. There is certainly more that can be done at the national level and, as was discussed in the webinar, there are also a lot of government commitments that still need to be actioned, such as a ban on plastic-containing wet wipes, a decision on whether to make water companies statutory consultees on planning applications, and the implementation of Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 which would require sustainable urban drainage systems to be included in new development projects, helping to keep rainwater in the ground and out of the sewerage network. 

To continue improving water quality in England, we must acknowledge that water companies are not the only stakeholders that need to act. The takeaway message from our webinar was that we all have a part to play to help improve water quality in our local communities, whether as councillors or as citizens. 

With that in mind, Jane spoke about the many local campaigns she has run to increase green infrastructure, such as tree planting on streets and wildflower verges. Both of these can help to absorb water during periods of heavy rainfall, helping to avoid water going into the drains unnecessarily which can exacerbate the risk of sewage spills. She has also campaigned diligently for the protection and restoration of the River Chess including organising community fundraising events. 

There are also plenty of opportunities to collaborate with your local water company to improve the capacity of our sewerage system by avoiding common sources of blockages and keeping rainwater out.

Examples of on-the-ground projects include: 

  • Liaising with local eateries to ensure they dispose of their fats, oils, and greases correctly

  • Running awareness campaigns to communicate to residents about what can and cannot be flushed down the toilet

  • Rolling out water butts to properties throughout the community

Chemicals are another important source of water pollution we need to tackle. The government is due to publish its Chemicals Strategy this year but, in the meantime, local councils and communities can lead by example in their local green spaces. Over 100 local authorities across the UK have either already ended their use of pesticides or are taking significant steps towards doing so. Many have done so through Nick’s Pesticide-Free Towns scheme and he encouraged all attendees to sign a letter to the Secretary of State to demonstrate their enthusiasm for this approach.

Please email if you would like a link to watch a recording of the event in full.


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