Water Quality, the UK Government Departments, QUANGOs etc

  1. Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
  2. Environment Agency (EA)
  3. Natural England (NE)
  4. Storm Overflows Taskforce
  5. Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan
  6. Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans
  7. Water Services Regulation Authority (OFWAT)
  8. The Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI)
  9. Water UK
  10. Regulators’ Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development (RAPID)
  11. UK Government Environment Audit Committee (EAC)
  12. Office for Environment Protection (OEP)
  13. Flood Risk Management Plan (FRMP)
  14. Draft South East river basin management plan

Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

DEFRA is the government department responsible for our environment, its impact from pollution and ‘greening’ the UK’s environmental footprint.  This includes climate change adaptation, flooding, the marine environment, farming pollution, increased development in the countryside and discharge by water companies (spills) of untreated sewage into our rivers, estuaries and seas.  Defra can direct and fund the Environment Agency on their monitoring of Water Companies and can issue pollution fines themselves.

The department’s stated purpose is “to make our air purer, our water cleaner, our land greener and our food more sustainable”.  Their mission is “to restore and enhance the environment for the next generation, leaving it in a better state than we found it.”

Defra works in partnership with a number of arm’s length bodies (ALBs), those relevant to us being the ‘Environment Agency’ and ‘Natural England’.

Environment Agency (EA)

The Environment Agency (EA) is a non-departmental public body sponsored by Defra, with responsibilities relating to the protection and enhancement of the environment in England.  The EA is responsible for regulating water resources and quality, as well as waste water.  They issue a licence or permitson the volume of sewage spills permitted to safeguard any surcharges which would block the system.  The EA’s stated purpose is, “to protect or enhance the environment, taken as a whole” so as to promote “the objective of achieving sustainable development”.  Protection of the environment relates to threats such as flood and pollution.  The vision of the agency is of “a rich, healthy and diverse environment for present and future generations”.   In support of its aims, the agency acts as an operating authority, a regulatory authority and a licence authority. The agency is funded in part from the UK government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).  Additional money is raised from the issuing of licences and permits such as abstraction licences, waste handler registrations, navigation rights and fishing licences.

The agency has a duty to maintain and improve the quality of surface waters and ground-waters and, as part of the duty, it monitors the quality of rivers, lakes, the sea and groundwater on a regular basis. Monitoring is also carried out of many discharges to the aquatic environment including sewage effluents and trade and agricultural discharges.

Natural England (NE)

Natural England is the executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by Defra, which is the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England, helping to protect and restore our natural world.  The mission of NE is to build ‘partnerships for nature’s recovery’, working ‘with and through a wide range of people’ to ‘take rapid action to rebuild sustainable ecosystems; to protect and restore biodiversity, habitats, species and landscapes for everybody to enjoy’.

NE looks for improvements in the natural capital that drives sustainable economic growth, healthy food systems and prospering communities.  Our interest in Natural England primarily relates to their guidance for nutrient neutrality in planning and development, and their management of the England Coast Path.

Storm Overflows Taskforce

The Government Storm Overflows Taskforce is striving to make data more transparent and accessible, including showing a grid reference for the spill overflow, the water company responsible and the reasons for the spill.  This is important information to safeguard our environment, to see where investment is initially needed and, in respect to the Environment Agency, building evidence for prosecution.  The evidence will also indicate where funding is needed to reverse the damage that has already been done to our rivers and estuaries, as well as wildlife and aquatic life.

Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan

In February 2022 the government published the Guiding principles for drainage and wastewater management plans. The government committed to providing supplementary guidance for companies on the ambition for storm overflows.

This Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan sets out clearly the pace and scale of action required by water companies to protect people and the environment and meet acceptable usage of storm overflows.

The government expects water and sewerage companies in England to meet the targets in the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, and set out how they will achieve these reductions in their drainage and wastewater management plans.

Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans

In February 2022 the government published the guiding principles for drainage and wastewater management plans. A new Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan sets out clearly the pace and scale of action required by water companies to protect people and the environment and meet acceptable usage of storm overflows.  The expectation of government is that water and sewerage companies in England will meet the targets in the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, and set out how they will achieve these reductions in their own Drainage and Wastewater Management plans.

They will encourage the development of chemical strategy to deal with pollution.  SPS was encouraging the natural remedies as have been stated by the Environment Agency reports.  The recommendation of real-time spills information which will put more pressure on water companies.  The recommendation is that signage should be placed at bathing areas downstream of spills.  SPS is not sure how they will deal with larger areas, such as Chichester Harbour.

Water Services Regulation Authority (OFWAT)

Ofwat is a non-ministerial government department established in 1989 when the water and sewerage industry in England and Wales was privatised.  The department is the economic regulator of water companies for the delivery of a secure and resilient water service.  They can also apply penalties for non-compliance.  Ofwat is the Water Regulator and can issue investigations into sewage treatment works.  Ofwat has stated that “Water Companies are not treating as much sewage as they should be and this has led to additional sewage discharge into the environment”.  The regulator can also monitor the treatment of sewage into drinking water, a controversial issue in its own right, desalination plants and advanced water recycling plants, both of which use reverse osmosis processes.

Ofwat’s main statutory duties include protecting the interests of consumers, securing the long-term resilience of water supply and wastewater systems, and ensuring that companies carry out their functions and are able to finance them.  Ofwat sets limits on the prices charged for water and sewerage services, taking into account proposed capital investment schemes (such as building new wastewater treatment works and new water supply technology) and expected operational efficiency gains.

The Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI)

The DWI operates as a ‘business unit’ within Defra’s Floods and Water Directorate.  It is the independent regulator of drinking water in England and Wales, providing independent assurance that the privatised water industry delivers safe, clean drinking water to consumers. Its aim is to secure safe, clean drinking water for all.

The stated objectives of DWI are to be a progressive and trusted organisation which ensures that water suppliers deliver water that is safe and clean, that the public can remain confident in their drinking water, that drinking water legislation is fit for purpose and implemented in the public interest.

Water UK

Water UK was established in 1998 to form a single voice for the water industry across the UK, bringing together the previous Water Services Association and Water Companies Association.   Water UK works with Government Regulators and stakeholders with representatives from all the UK Water Companies, to meet the needs of customers’ water supply, health needs, the environment and looking after wastewater services connected to our homes.  It meet quarterly to set a strategic direction for the future needs together with, non-enforceable, technical guidance. 

Water UK is a membership body representing the UK water industry, funded directly by its members as an ‘independent organisation representing the whole industry and not the interest of individual companies’.

Water UK works with Government Regulators to meet the needs of customers’ water supply, health needs, the environment and looking after wastewater services connected to our homes.  It meets quarterly to set a strategic direction for the future needs together with non-enforceable technical guidance.  It works with companies ‘to help ensure that customers receive high quality tap water at a reasonable price and that the environment is protected and improved’.

Regulators’ Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development (RAPID)


The oversight body made up of OFWAT, the Environment Agency and the Drinking Water Inspectorate. The RAPID process is forcing the pace of development, enabling projects such as the HWTWR project to be declared as ‘National Strategic Infrastructure Projects’ which can therefore be developed under Development Control Orders from central government. As such, Havant Borough Council will have little or no say on any of this development.

UK Government Environment Audit Committee (EAC)

The Government have formed an Environmental Audit committee which admits that it is difficult to assess the health of our rivers and estuaries.  This government Committee’s remit is to consider the extent to which the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development, and to audit their performance against sustainable development and environmental protection targets.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is holding an inquiry into water quality in rivers. The EAC has previously inquired into nitrate pollution.  This inquiry intends to focus on the water industry and urban diffuse pollution.

Evidence to this inquiry has stated that: Poor water quality in English rivers is a result of chronic underinvestment and multiple failures in monitoring, governance and enforcement.  The Committee heard that: until the passing of the Environment Act last year there has been a lack of political will to improve water quality, with successive governments, water companies and regulators seemingly turning a blind eye to antiquated practices of dumping sewage and other pollutants in rivers and seas”.

Office for Environment Protection (OEP)

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) is a new public body created in November 2021 under the Environment Act 2021.  The OEP’s purpose is to protect and improve the environment by holding government and other public authorities to account. 

The OEP is intended to replace the environmental protection functions of the European Union and states that it will use its powers and duties to make the greatest contribution it can to environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment.  This includes the protection of people from the effects of human activity on the environment.

The Environment Act sets out the OEP powers and duties, which can be split into four types of activities. These are:

1.  Scrutinising Environmental Improvement Plans and targets
2. Scrutinising environmental law
3. Advising government on environmental law
4. Enforcing against failures to comply with environmental law

Flood Risk Management Plan (FRMP)

Flood risk management plans (FRMPs) are strategic plans that set out how to manage flood risk in nationally identified flood risk areas (FRAs). They are statutory plans required by the Flood Risk Regulations 2009, and must be reviewed by the Environment Agency and lead local flood authorities (LLFAs) every 6 years.

The first FRMPs were published in March 2016. They contain actions to manage flood risk across England between 2015 to 2021. The new set of plans covers 2021 to 2027.

The Environment Agency worked together with lead local flood authorities (LLFAs) and other risk management authorities (RMAs) to produce draft FRMPs for public consultation.

Draft South East river basin management plan

The South East river basin district (RBD) river basin management plan describes the challenges that threaten the water environment and how these challenges can be managed.

The draft river basin management plan ‘map explorer’ provides a fascinating interactive display covering the whole country, with zoomed access to the local Solent area. Specific sites and areas of countryside are ‘designated’, meaning that they have special status as protected areas because of their natural and cultural importance.

Maps in this section include drinking water protected areas, nitrate vulnerable zones, urban waste water treatment sensitive areas and bathing water protected areas. The example below shows bathing water and shellfish water protected areas around the Solent.

River Basin Management Plan extract showing Bathing and Shellfish water protection areas

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