Memorandum by the Royal Society for the
Protection of Birds (RSPB) (DWB 24)
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
welcomes this opportunity to present evidence to the Committee's
inquiry into the draft Water Bill. The RSPB works for a healthy
environment rich in birds and wildlife. It depends on the support
and generosity of others to make a difference. The RSPB has considerable
experience in water resources policy. With partner organisations,
we highlighted Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) threatened
from over-abstraction in the High and Dry report in 1996(1)and
worked to ensure that action to protect many of these sites was
incorporated into the National Environment Programme funded by
the 1999 Water Price Review. We have made submissions to Government
consultations on the reform of the abstraction licensing regime
and utility regulation. We have commissioned policy research into
the use of economic instruments for water abstraction.(2) We also
responded to the more recent consultations on the introduction
of Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies (CAMs), Competition
in the Water Industry, and the use of economic instruments in
water pricing. We address three main areas in our evidence:
Abstraction and Impoundment.
New Regulatory Arrangements.
Other measures recommended for consideration
in the draft Water Bill.
1. The RSPB supports much of the draft Bill's
content. We particularly support the measures to reform our archaic
abstraction licensing system that has been so damaging to our
wetland heritage. We are also pleased that the draft Bill gives
water companies an enforceable duty to further water conservation.
2. Sustainable water management must be
at the heart of regulation. It is important that the regulators,
and society as a whole, treats water as a heritage, as an invaluable
natural resource, not as a commodity. Legislative reform on water
is an infrequent occurrence, we should not have to wait another
10 years to get a sustainable regulatory system in placewe
must get it right this time.
3. The draft Water Bill has had a long gestation.
Many elements of it were consulted upon in 1997 and 1998.(3,4)
Issuing the Water Bill as a draft further delays measures necessary
to implement decisions already agreed by the Department for the
Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) back in March 1999.(5)
We are also concerned that the draft Bill has been released as
an incomplete draftadding further unnecessary delay.
4. The draft Bill does not, but should,
include proposals on the important areas of using economic instruments
for water abstraction or on competition in the water industry.
5. The draft Bill makes no reference to
the EC Water Framework Directive(6) that will need to be transposed
into UK law within the next three years. The Directive has important
implications for water management in the UK and DETR's release
of the draft Water Bill with no reference to the Directive could
be considered short-sighted.
6. The draft Bill rightly establishes a
new consumer objective for OFWAT but this should be balanced with
an accompanying objective to protect the environment and further
7. A duty should be placed on OFWAT to ensure
the effective management of water demand by water companies, including
the ability to set mandatory demand management targets. The establishment
of a Water Savings Trust, an independent body that could advise
consumers on water efficiency, would support this.
Wetlands are remarkable environments for biodiversitythey
support a rich and diverse array of birds, plants, insects, amphibians
and mammals. Wetlands, such as lowland wet grassland, reedbeds,
peatlands, and rivers, provide some of the richest wildlife habitats
in the world. Wetlands are home to birds such as the bittern,
redshank, lapwing and kingfisher. Wetlands also provide natural
infrastructures for filtering and storing water, and controlling
floods. They provide aesthetic and healthy landscapes for local
communities and are often good places for wildlife tourism. Governments
recognise the importance of wetland wildlife by providing designations
to help protect and manage them both nationally and internationallySSSIs,
Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation, and Ramsar
Sites. To maintain their viability and wildlife, wetlands require
a reliable supply of clean water, either from underground sources
or rivers and streams.
The droughts of 1995 to 1997 illustrate just
how vulnerable wetlands are. Many rivers suffered from low flows
and many wetlands suffered from lowered water levelsadversely
affecting wetland habitats, plants and animals.
Delivering a robust and successful draft Water
Bill will be fundamental to the protection of the environment
in the face of increasing water demands, changes in the water
industry and in the face of climate change. If the draft Water
Bill does not incorporate the needs of wildlife sufficiently,
then its implementation could endanger wetland habitats and species.
1.1 In March 1999 the Government published
Taking Water Responsibly outlining Government decisions
following consultations on changes to the water abstraction licensing
system in England and Wales. The RSPB welcomed this report, which
included many of the policy and legislative changes we had been
pressing for. The draft Bill includes all of the legislative measures
necessary to implement the recommendations in Taking Water
Responsibly. The RSPB particularly supports the following
(a) the confirmation that all new licences
will be time-limited (Clauses 10 and 11). In parallel to this
we expect the Environment Agency to draw up a programme for converting
all existing licences to a time-limited basis;
(b) to enable the Environment Agency to revoke
an abstraction licence if it has not been used for four years
(c) the removal of most exemptions from abstraction
licensing (Clauses 2 and 4);
(d) to allow the license threshold to be
varied in defined areas (Clause 3). We would suggest that the
setting of any threshold should be linked with the Environment
Agency's Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies (CAMs), which
will identify the sustainability status of water resources within
(e) the duties on water companies to make
and agree publicly available drought plans (Clause 46). This should
encourage a transparent emergency planning process, and as recommended
by the Environment Select Committee in 1996 in it's First Report
into Water Conservation and Supply(7) such plans should be subject
to a strategic environmental assessment;
(f) an enforceable duty on water companies
to further water conservation (Clause 53);
(g) the ability for the Environment Agency
to enter into enforceable water management schemes with abstractors
(Clauses 18 and 19). This should control abstractions that cause
damage to important wildlife sites;
(h) the increased fines for water abstraction
offences and the extra enforcement powers to deal with breaches
of conditions (Clause 20). This would give the Agency the necessary
teeth to enforce its duties.
1.2 The RSPB does not believe, however,
that another consultation was needed for these measuresthey
have already been consulted on twice before in 1997 and 1998 (our
responses to both of these consultations are attached).
This has unnecessarily delayed the implementation of a more rational
and sustainable licensing system.
1.3 There are a number of measures that
the draft Water Bill does not include but which the RSPB would
recommend be incorporated:
the duty to use water efficiently
should be extended from water companies to cover all abstractors,
such as industrial and agricultural abstractors. This was a proposed
in Taking Water Responsibly and it is unfortunate that
the Government has decided not to incorporate it into the draft
a requirement that water resource
plans produced by water companies, and approved by the Environment
Agency, should be made publicly available. Such plans should consider
all the options to meet demands for water in the long-term. This
should encourage an open and transparent planning process, and
as was recommended by the Environment Select Committee in 1996
in its First Report into Water Conservation and Supply such plans
should be subject to a strategic environmental assessment.
1.4 The RSPB welcomes the intention of Clause
17 to remove the right to compensation, from 2012, for curtailment
of licences causing environmental damage. However, the RSPB:
would prefer the date to be bought
forward to 2008, in order to reverse more quickly the past and
present environmental damage;
is concerned that the removal of
revocation is only applicable in those cases where "the Secretary
of State is satisfied that the revocation or variation is necessary
in order to protect any waters or underground strata, or any flora
and fauna dependent on them, from serious damage". This will
only serve to:
(a) add unnecessary additional
burden and delay to the revocation of licences causing environmental
damage, for example the term "serious damage" is very
imprecise and open to interpretation; and
(b) prevent the Agency from "achieving
conversion of existing licences to time-limited status",
as recommended by the Government in Taking Water Responsibility
(paragraph 7.13), because compensation will be payable for
conversion of those licences not causing "serious damage".
The Agency is already required under the Environment
Act 1995 to secure the proper use of water resources and will
be required to fulfil this duty when seeking revocation or variation
of any licence.
This will ensure that revocation or variation
will only take place where the Agency feels unable to fulfil this
duty. The RSPB, therefore, believes that the Government should
end compensation for losses arising from the revocation or variation
of all licences without a time limit.
1.5 The RSPB is disappointed that the draft
Bill does not include any proposals on the use of economic instruments
for water abstraction. The RSPB agrees that the control of abstraction
should continue to be based on a regulatory approach, since regulations
can ensure that environmental standards are met. However, to encourage
greater efficiency of water use we believe that the use of economic
instruments, in the form of incentive charging, should be introduced
to complement regulation.
1.6 DETR considered options for introducing
economic instruments on abstraction licensing in the 1997 and
1998 consultations on abstraction licensing. This considered the
role of incentive charging and trading in abstraction licences.
In May 2000 it published a further consultation on the use of
economic instruments in water abstraction.(8) This proposed the
introduction of trading and largely ruled out any role for incentive
charging. The RSPB has significant concerns over their proposal
for trading. In 1997 we commissioned Cranfield and Middlesex Universities
to research the practical implications of introducing tradeable
permits.2 This reported that trading could result in greater take-up
of sleeper licences which will lead to reduced flows and levels
in rivers and drainage systems. It also showed that the seasonal,
fluctuating and uncertain nature of supply and demand for water
would introduce complexities into any trading system. This suggests
that trading will only be possible within a limited number of
catchments and only on a local scale consistent with the nature
of water supply so that no adverse environmental effects would
result. In any event trading of licences must not be allowed to
proceed until the Environment Agency's Catchment Abstraction Management
Strategies have been rolled out to all catchments to establish
a robust environmental "requirement" for water. Only
once the sustainability of a catchment has been defined can trading
be used to determine the efficient allocation of water.
1.7 In any event, it is likely that trading
will only be possible in about 5 per cent of catchments. The RSPB,
therefore, supports the intelligent use of incentive charging
to encourage the efficient use of waterfor example by pricing
water closer to its environmental cost and charging water at different
rates in different areas and seasons. This draft Bill does not
include anything on licence trading nor on incentive charginga
major omission when they could substantially change the way water
resources are managed.
2. NEW REGULATORY
2.1 We welcome the establishment of a truly
independent "Consumer Council for Water" (Clauses 23,
31 and 35) as long as it will represent all water consumers and
not just those who complain or contact itas tended to be
the case with OFWAT's National Customer Council. The four million
members of environmental organisations are also water consumers
and they expect to see a consumer organisation championing their
interests to ensure water is managed to protect and enhance our
wetlands. A clean, sustainable, water environment, rich in wildlife
is also in the interests of all water consumers. We, therefore,
welcome the definition of "consumers" to include both
existing and future consumers. Future, and existing, consumers
will be keen that the regulator oversees the sustainable use of
water by the water industry so that there is sufficient and clean
water for their future use. To be truly representative of all
consumers the new Consumer Council must:
be given sufficient resources to
undertake robust consultation and research of consumers' views,
rather than base their views of consumer interests on those who
write in to complain;
be given an environmental duty to
complement and balance its duties to protect consumers;
be given a duty to ensure water companies
further water conservation and promote the adoption of demand
management measures. It is in all consumers' interests for water
resources to be used efficientlyit reduces the cost of
treatment and of further resource development;
includes in its membership representation
from all types of consumer, including those who can represent
the needs of the environment.
22. The new checks and balances on the Director
General of OFWAT, in the form of the Water Advisory Panel (Clause
22) are welcome. This should be complemented by the introduction
of a new environmental objective on OFWAT to balance with the
new "consumer objective" outlined in the draft Bill.
The RSPB, therefore, recommends that:
the Director General be given a new
environmental objective "to protect the interests of the
environment and to help achieve sustainable water management";
the Water Advisory Panel includes
someone who can represent environmental interests. Such a representative
will be able to advise the Director General on environmental matters
relevant to water undertakers.
2.3 The RSPB welcomes the development of
guidance by DETR and the National Assembly for Wales on social
and environmental matters (Clause 28). To be effective it is important
the draft Bill specifies that the
Secretary of State and the Welsh Assembly shall be required to
consult the Environment Agency and English Nature/Countryside
Council for Wales before issuing guidance to the Director on environmental
matters (clause 28, section (3));
the Director General is required
to ensure its actions promote and further, rather than simply
"have regard to", the guidance (clause 28 section 3).
2.4 The new Consumer Objective requires
OFWAT (and the Secretary of State and NAW) to promote consumers'
interests, "wherever appropriate by promoting effective competition".
One glaring omission in the draft Bill is the absence of any indication
as to what form that competition will take. DETR produced a consultation
on competition in the water industry in April 2000(9), their response
to comments has yet to be published. The RSPB has some serious
misgivings about extending competition to the management of a
scarce and valuable resource and about the absence, thus far,
of any environmental assessment of its implications.
2.5 While OFWAT and the water companies
have a duty to further water conservation, they do not have a
duty to promote demand management. Other than leakage targets,
there are no enforceable targets for adopting demand management
measures like water re-use/recycle systems, metering etc. The
adoption of mandatory leakage targets has had the effect of focusing
company attention in the last five years, to the extent that 1,806
million litres of water are now saved per day. A targeted approach
to encouraging other techniques could save many million litres
moreto the benefit of the environment and the long-term
interests of consumers.
2.6 The establishment of an independent
Water Savings Trust (following the model of the Energy Savings
Trust) would make a valuable contribution to water management.
It could provide impartial advice on water efficiency and demand
management measures to domestic and industrial consumers and run
public information campaigns on the importance of water saving.
Not having any association with the water companies or with any
of the water regulators would have clear advantages. The RSPB
and others have continually called for such a body for many years,
first promoting the idea through a private members bill in 1995.
The Environment Select Committee in its 1996 First Report on Water
Conservation and Supply believed that there was "a strong
case for establishing a national body which will campaign for
the sustainable and efficient use of water in the home and industry"
and "called upon Government to seek agreement . . . concerning
the funding of this body and to introduce the necessary legislation
at the earliest opportunity." DETR have ignored these calls
and there is a danger that another opportunity will have been
3. OTHER MEASURES
3.1 Integration of policies on water quality,
flood protection, wildlife, and water resources is crucial to
the achievement of sustainable water management. All these policies
are linked through the water cycle but at present we manage them
as individual functions, compartmentalising the water cycle rather
than making the links. The Water Framework Director requires Member
States to establish river basin management plans in order to make
these links and achieve "good ecological status" for
all waters. The draft Water Bill makes no reference to the need
to transpose the directive into UK law. The draft Bill could act
as a crucial step to move towards what the Directive requires
the UK to doinstead it has merely tinkered with our existing
legislation. Legislative reform on water is an infrequent occurrence,
we should not have to wait another ten years to get a sustainable
regulatory system in placewe must get it right this time.
3.2 The Countryside and Rights of Way Act
2000 provides a statutory underpinning to the achievement of biodiversity
action plan targets. That requires DETR, DTI and their agencies
(including OFWAT and the Environment Agency) to have regard to
environmental enhancement and not just of the environmental status
quo. How water resources are managed is fundamental to the restoration
and creation of wetland habitats like grazing marsh and reedbeds
(both priority biodiversity action plan habitats). In order to
meet the requirements of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act
The Environment Agency Catchment
Abstraction Management Strategies should be required to allocate
enough water in appropriate catchments to allow for wetland creation
in addition to protecting the existing environment.
OFWAT, through the price review mechanism,
should allow water companies to help fund the creation of wetlands
that provide a water quality and/or water resource function.
It is unfortunate that the draft Water Bill
provides no guidance to regulators on how they should incorporate
biodiversity targets into their work plans and strategies.
3.3 The future of the British economy depends
on an energy, transport, communications and water infrastructure
to deliver competitiveness, jobs, a decent society and a healthy
environment. The water sector faces enormous challenges and future
environmental pressures may be more challenging than most currently
allow for, as the recent floods serve to illustrate. The present
water industry regulatory system stifles creative thinking and
imposes unsustainable end-of-pipe remedies to our water problemsclosing
a borehole or building a new sewer. For example, in the 1999 price
review OFWAT approved £1.7 billion of spending on "solving"
the urban flooding problem by installing even bigger drainage
pipes which simply pushes the flooding problem from one bottleneck
to another downstream. The National Environment Programme approved
by OFWAT in the 1999 price review is largely about the mitigation
of environmental problems bought about by managing the water cycle
in an unsustainable way rather than tackling the underlying problems
3.4 The regulatory system pressurises the
water industry to agree large capital investment projects with
hard engineering solutions. This prevents the adoption of innovative
and sustainable solutions to water management problemsdeterring
water companies from the flexible and partnership responses needed
to cope with future challenges, of which climate change looms
large. Such measures could include:
promotion of grey-water recycling
systems within new development;
restoration and creation of wetlands
within floodplains which reduce flood risk, improve water supply
security and water quality and enhances biodiversity;
promotion of low-input farming systems
to reduce the high cost of treating drinking water contaminated
with pesticide and nitratesestimated at over £136
million per year (10).
3.5 The draft Water Bill only tinkers at
the edges in altering the current regulatory regime to deliver
sustainable water management. We urge the Government to undertake
a more wholescale assessment of the water industry regulatory
regime towards one which rewards efficient and creative thinking
and which is focused on environmental results, not inputs.
1. Biodiversity Challenge, 1996 High
and Dry: the impact on wildlife of taking too much water from
2. Cranfield University and Middlesex University
1997 Practical Implications of Introducing Tradeable permits
for Water Abstraction: Report to the RSPB.
3. DETR 1997 Review of the Abstraction
Licensing System in England Wales.
4. DETR 1998 The Review of the Abstraction
Licensing System in England and Wales; consultation paper.
5. DETR 1999 Taking Water Responsibly:
Government Decisions following consultation on changes to the
water abstraction licensing system in England and Wales.
6. CEC, 2000 Water Framework Directive,
Directive 2000/60/EC. Brussels.
7. Environment Committee, 1996 First
Report into Water Conservation and Supply.
8. DETR 2000 Economic Instruments in
Relaton to Water Abstraction.
9. DETR 2000 Competition in the Water
Industry in England and Wales.
10. Pretty JN, Brett C, Gee D, Hine RE,
Mason CF, Morison JIL, Raven H, Rayment MD and van der Bijl G,
2000 As assessment of the total external costs of UK agriculture.
24 Not printed. Back