Nature and the water sector
Water is vital for human life, our communities, and business.
How can the water industry help to protect and preserve this resource?
Water is life
We can all play our part in protecting and improving our natural environment.
This chapter explores ways in which water companies can play a leading role.
Water companies’ role in securing a nature positive future involves both preventing harm to rivers and making positive changes to actively improve nature.
The first step is to understand the challenges facing nature and biodiversity, and how to address them.
Challenges facing nature
What’s being done
Leading UK water companies are working hard to reduce any impact on nature caused by their operations, and to actively improve the environment.
They spend over £1 billion a year on improving nature —more than any other part of the public sector. This investment has resulted in substantial improvements to 10,000 km of rivers.
They have helped create 77 Blue Flag beaches throughout England (up from 12 in 1987) [source] and are on track to being carbon neutral by 2030. The quality of our rivers is now comparable or better than equally industrialised areas in Europe.
But we are not where we should be. We need to address the underlying causes from a number of different sectors. Now is the time for farmers, the water sector, and wider society to pull together and actively contribute to rebuilding nature. That effort is well underway, as you will see in the examples and inspiration in this chapter.
Explore case studies
The path forward
Businesses can take a variety of positive actions, from quick wins to longer-term efforts.
Many of these actions require collaboration – with other businesses and across sectors.
Examples of different types of action are showcased here, not as a comprehensive checklist, but as inspiration for further positive action.
Effective action begins with an understanding of the challenges facing nature and the actions already being taken. Knowing we can always do more, and encourage other businesses in the sector and throughout our supply chains to join us on the journey to Get Nature Positive.
Explore actions for nature
Our waterways are the lifeblood of our environment and effective water supply is essential for human health. Our rivers, canals, lakes and wetlands are the vital ecosystem that supplies our clean drinking water, provides a home for our precious wildlife and, in good condition, can help tackle the climate crisis by storing huge amounts of carbon.Beccy Speight CEO, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
- Water companies in England and Wales have spent around £25 billion on environmental work since 1995 – action which has improved around 10,000 miles of rivers. 
- The water sector in England and Wales plans to spend an additional £5 billion between 2020 and 2025 on environmental improvements. 
- The UK now has one of the world’s best water supply and sewerage infrastructures, which has earned it a satisfaction rating of 73% – second only to Germany. 
- In the UK, 18% of rivers are assessed to be in high or good ecological condition, 61% in moderate condition and 21% in poor or bad condition.
- The biggest cause of rivers not meeting the Water Framework Directive standards is the effect of agriculture, which accounts for 36% of the reasons for failure.
- The water sector is responsible for 24% of the reasons for failure to meet the Water Framework Directive standards - and run-off from roads and urban areas account for 11% of the reasons.
- The UK’s sewer network experiences around 300,000 blockages each year – 93% of which are caused by wet wipes. Each blockage risks a pollution incident if not dealt with quickly. 
- The average person in the UK uses 141 litres of water a day. In Germany, the equivalent figure is 122 litres. 
- England’s leading water companies have committed to planting 11 million trees on around 6,000 acres of land by 2030. 
Liv Garfield, Severn Trent plc
I am hugely encouraged by the growing debate about how to improve nature generally, and particularly how to improve the natural condition of our rivers.
Analysis by the Environment Agency shows that rivers are now in better condition than any time since the Industrial Revolution. Yet significant challenges remain.
We need to tackle pollution that runs into our rivers from the surrounding land – excess fertiliser, animal waste, run-off from roads, for example. And we need to ensure that investment into our sewage networks keeps pace with population growth, the effects of climate change, and societal expectations.