Here at AW water is our business and it’s on our minds all day every day. So you would expect us to be talking about why it is so important to protect it. But yesterday that same message was being echoed by organisations as varied as Marks and Spencer, Coca Cola, The National Trust, Asda, The Wildlife Trusts and the National Farmers Union.
They were among 50 high profile organisations who signed up to the Catchment Management Declaration launched at an event attended by Prince Charles in his role as patron of Business in the Community (BITC) and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (read his speech here). Also in attendance were senior directors and ministers from Ofwat and Defra.
The declaration is intended to form the basis of a newly energised multi sector approach to protecting our rivers, reservoirs, lakes, wetlands and aquifers for the benefit of the people, wildlife and businesses that rely on them. But how important is this? The rain keeps falling and the water will keep on flowing, right?
Some of the facts laid out in the declaration shine a light on just how vital this approach is. Our drinking water comes from 426 lakes, reservoirs and rivers and 1,961 underground sources in the UK. There are 1,133 water treatment works and 6,354 water recycling works. Water is vital for businesses and services like power (the combustion sector uses 1.6Billion m³ of water a year) and agriculture, which covers 71% of the country’s land area.
The more you delve into the role water plays in our lives and the health of our environment, the more it is clear that it is a truly shared resource with a part for everyone to play in reducing pressure on water sources, tackling pollution and better managing water in the landscape.
Yesterday’s event was an inspirational occasion which left me full of hope for the future, but it certainly did not leave me feeling like a box had been ticked and a job completed. The one thing that I, and I know many others, took away was a deeper understanding of the challenge facing us. Our water environment is under greater pressure than it has ever been before from climate change and population growth and we need a step change in the way we all work together to play our part from source to sea.
As chair of the BITC Water Task Force I’ll be working hard to drive progress beyond just Anglian Water. The key themes that shone through from yesterday included the importance of collaboration, engaging communities and ensuring that this isn’t just about water companies acting alone.
We signed up to six principles, which given the nature of the challenge on our hands are mostly high level and strategic. So I was glad to see that one of them is a promise from everyone involved to go away, start working together on this issue and then reconvene in 12 months to share our progress and examples of positive action. And HRH the Prince of Wales made it very clear that he expects to be kept personally informed of that progress.
We have a year to show this approach can work and I welcome everyone with an interest in water and our environment to scrutinise the results in 12 months time. Only then can we be sure we are doing the right thing for our rivers, our wildlife and our communities.
Find out more about the Catchment Management Declaration and how it aligns with the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan here.