As part of the shift from governance arrangements under EU directives to a UK-driven framework of environmental regulation, the Environment Act has made significant changes to the regulation and enforcement of water-related issues. Between licensing reviews and drainage and wastewater management plans for the water sector, there is the potential to better protect against risk and manage capacity issues, but this will rely on careful scrutiny and whether or not arms-length bodies such as the OEP are properly able to challenge failures.
Whilst some regulation around water resources in the UK is still governed by historic regulation, such as the UK’s implementation of EU Directives, there is a possibility of the governance framework changing further. In the context of the Government’s proposed ‘Brexit Freedoms Bill’, several areas of environmental regulation are likely to be revisited to further promote the concept of a UK-led approach to environmental regulations. Although significant changes to water regulation are unlikely given the changes which have already been made through the Environment Act, there is an ongoing need for engagement and awareness of potential ramifications for regulation of water resources.
The success of regulatory changes which affect water will be highly reliant on the quality of their implementation. For example, the new water resources charge proposals which are due to take effect next month have the potential to be a satisfactory improvement on past charges, though whether or not they will drive positive improvement still depends on effective enforcement and application in practice.
Scrutiny of the implementation of these measures will be especially important in the context of a relaxed target framework for water, with proposed long-term targets setting a lower standard than those which existed under the Water Framework Directive, particularly in terms of large-scale strategic factors such as the overall health of rivers.
Ongoing engagement with DEFRA and relevant regulatory bodies will therefore be increasingly important as the Government works to implement and action key areas of the 25 Year Environment Plan. In the process of moving towards a second Environmental Improvement Plan, engagement with Ofwat, the Environment Agency, and the OEP will be crucial to ensuring that challenges linked to regulation, implementation, and enforcement are properly addressed in Government policy.
There is a strong opportunity for water science to support work that aligns governance, regulation, and policy to drive environmental improvement throughout water resources and other natural systems. Awareness of regulatory changes linked to these bodies will also be important to maintaining effective horizon scanning so that environmental professionals working or specialising in water are appropriately equipped to take a long-term perspective to environmental monitoring and improvement.