Reconnecting With Water So We Protect It

26th March 2021

Our water guru Yvonne Rees is working closely with Natural Course to find ways to better manage water locally, and on the week the world celebrated World Water Day we asked her what this vital resource means to her. She said:

Feeling disconnected

Water to me means joy, whether it’s a refreshing drink, splashing cold water on your face each morning, listening to a babbling brook, or breathing in the fresh air blowing from the sea, it makes you feel good. Wellbeing is not just about green space it’s about blue space too. Water is such a precious resource but Water Quality in England is not good. Only 14% of our rivers meet Good Ecological Status under the Water Framework Directive: that figure has not changed since 2009. Despite massive investment to control pollution from the major sources, we all need to do our bit now to protect our water. We will only do that if we care about water, and that means getting reconnected.

It is a long time since water in the UK has been managed locally. 1974 saw the creation of multi-purpose Regional Water Authorities, a move, which whilst bringing efficiency gains, I believe is partially responsible for this disconnection. We have also lost rivers from our towns and cities as they have been paved over to make way for roads and car parks. There are buried waterways under our feet in many urban areas. Some cities have opened up, or are ‘daylighting’ their waterways and people are now enjoying the sight and sounds of rivers once again – Sheffield for example has taken this step. Although the costs are high, Eunomia has analysed results from several sites and shown the benefits outweigh the costs hugely, as these schemes bring not only joy, but can also help alleviate flooding, improve air quality, and, for those financially minded, increase footfall and property prices.

Reconnecting

The government’s 25-year plan includes an aim ‘for more people, from all backgrounds, to engage with and spend time in green and blue spaces in their everyday lives. One of the ways the Government has tried to encourage more local involvement in water has been through the Catchment-Based Approach (CaBA). There is a Catchment Partnership in every river across England and they involve people in a wide range of practical activities from monitoring the water environment using citizen science, to helping remove ‘alien species’ such as Himalayan Balsam.

Eunomia has been working with Natural Course in the North West to help support the Catchment Partnerships and also look at how water can be more effectively governed. One of the recommendations is to create a stronger bridge between the work of stakeholders and decision-makers through new proposed governance mechanisms that allow better sharing of best practice and capturing of local knowledge and needs in strategic decision making.

There has always been debate around whether water should be managed at catchment or county level, and the answer isn’t simple. But building a stronger link to the county feels like a positive move as this is a geography people understand, after all, we know who we pay our council tax to.

Craig Higson, Natural Course Collaborative Team Member says: “The events of the past year have seen a positive shift in society’s connection to, and reliance on nature and the environment. There is a growing urgency to protect and improve our rivers and water bodies, however despite best efforts, changes in the way we approach and tackle issues need to be addressed.

“Governance arrangements across river basin districts are complex, which can result in a range of approaches being taken. Working with a wide range of stakeholders across the North West, our project is helping to unravel the current situation. We have undertaken a review of the situation in Cumbria (which represents one of the most complex areas in terms of environment, overlapping boundaries, interests and issues) with the aim of being able to better understand the issues, and take action to deliver more for the water environment.”

Informed investment

The Environment Agency and Water Companies make significant investment to improve the water environment every year, and Catchment Partnerships are eager to share local knowledge so investment decisions are informed by local context but they can’t do this unless there is an effective process facilitating communication. The water challenges we face will vary enormously depending on the context from big urban city-centres to rural communities prone to floods, all facing different problems, from plastic pollution to contamination from pharmaceuticals.

What you can do

Find out where your rivers are and particularly if you are in a city find out how many lie underground (search for lost rivers in your area) then maybe campaign to bring them back to life? Check out your local Catchment Partnership and get involved here.