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Our catchment management initiatives

When the water industry was privatised in 1989, borders were created along the lines of the river basins that gave many of the companies their names. Our sector has since been defined by these catchments. The years following privatisation have seen a transformation in standards, with companies radically improving all key aspects of the service they provide customers, and greatly reducing their impacts on the environment. However, the investment that has made this possible has, largely been through traditional, ‘hard’ engineering solutions, which rarely address problems at source.

Managing our catchments by addressing issues at their source can offer better value or greater benefits. We have a long tradition of catchment projects and programmes, from pioneering work in the 1990s to protect drinking water sources from pesticides used on railway lines, to our award-winning recent programme to install sustainable drainage in schools, managing flood risk and creating new nature reserves in urban catchments.

We face many, varied challenges that mean we need to evolve the ways we work. Rapid population growth and changing weather patterns are placing an increasing pressure on our ageing infrastructure, while we strive to meet higher environmental standards. We continue to work with landowners to reduce diffuse pollution across our catchments. We've also designed an industry-first initiative which will deliver a more holistic approach to improving our river catchments.

Our ‘Smarter Water Catchments’ initiatives

We’re putting this approach into practice to understand how we can achieve key benefits while working in a more holistic way. The first step on this journey is to co-create a catchment plan with key stakeholders who either operate within this environment and/or have a vested interest in protecting and enhancing it. For the period of 2020 to 2025 we’re trialling this in 3 catchments and will be working in partnership to deliver the plans.

Our approach to managing pesticides and nitrate

65% of our drinking water comes from rivers, while the rest comes from groundwater. The use of pesticides and fertilisers can affect the quality of this water, which we abstract and treat to produce drinking water. In order to improve the river and groundwater quality, we’re:
  • Raising awareness of the problems – playing a prominent role in key stakeholder groups, including the Voluntary Initiative, Metaldehyde Stewardship Group, Amenity Forum and Pesticide Forum.
  • Working with farmers and agronomists in high-risk areas – identifying ‘hotspots’ to target our catchment projects in the most important areas
  • Partnering with local organisations to deliver projects – using organisations trusted by farmers as sources of advice on catchment management and other issues.
  • Funding research into solutions – working with environmental stakeholders and researchers to develop best practice methods, including cover crop and slow release fertiliser trials, and investigating the use of swales and biofilters.
  • Working with our neighbouring water companies also abstracting from the River Thames, Affinity Water and South East Water, to co-ordinate our catchment projects.
Every farm, and every field can make a difference. For more information on factors to consider on your farm to protect river and groundwater quality, please download our guide.

Future projects managing pesticides and nitrate

We'll continue to work with farmers and land managers to reduce the risk from nitrate and certain pesticides, in addition to metaldehyde, that are frequently detected in our rivers and groundwater. We'll be offering:

  • Water quality updates to provide water quality data to farmers and agronomists, to ensure they are kept up to date with emerging trends in their area.
  • Events to share learning and best practice, and 1-1 advice to discuss measures farmers can take on their own farms to protect water quality with agricultural specialists.
  • Catchment Fund (from 2021 onwards) in high priority areas, providing funding towards infrastructure improvements and land management changes that will help to improve water quality.

For more information about our catchment-based initiatives, please email us.

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