On 2 May 2012 the Committee published a report on EU Freshwater Policy. The Government responded to the report on 29 June 2012. A debate will be held on the floor of the House in due course.
The Committee's report warned that urgent action is required to safeguard water quality and availability in the UK and many areas of Europe which are already suffering from the effects of a significant lack of rain. And in order for this to happen, the Committee concluded that governments will have to allow the cost of water to increase where other measures to tackle water scarcity have failed, not least through more widespread use of metering. The Government resist a blanket approach to metering in their response.
The Committee also called for the Government to bring forward the deadline for reforming the water abstraction regime, outlined in its Water White Paper. The Government say that more than 10% of rivers are abstracted to an extent that may damage water ecosystems, but they have set a target of the mid to late 2020s for reforming the regime. The Committee thinks that delaying this reform for at least 15 years fails to respond to the urgency of the situation.
In the report, the Committee also recommended that:
- the EU must start planning immediately for a future in which water resources will be increasingly uncertain, with factors including climate change playing a significant role;
- more must be done both by the Government and by the European Commission to promote the catchment level as an important level of governance, in the Blueprint for the future of the EU’s water resources which the Commission will produce this year;
- local stakeholders (for example, rivers trusts, amenity groups, anglers and farmers) should be allowed to play a much greater role in decisions on issues such as river catchments, in order to reconnect people with the value of water as a resource; and
- the EU should encourage all Member States to develop national water scarcity and drought management plans.