The Committee's report, An Indispensable Resource: EU Freshwater Policy, warns 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 says that governments may have to allow the cost of water to rise.
The Committee also calls 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 recommends 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;
- the Government must allow the cost of water to increase where other measures to tackle water scarcity have failed;
- 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.
Chair of the Committee, Lord Carter of Coles, said:
"The issue of water scarcity is becoming increasingly urgent. Having taken our water resources for granted for so long, we must start looking at ways in which we can protect the quality and availability of water resources in the face of challenges such as climate change and population growth.
Governments across the EU need to act decisively, and grasp the nettle of allowing the cost of water to rise where other measures fail to overcome water scarcity. Here in the UK, the Government cannot wait 15 years to reform the water abstraction regime when it is clear that over-abstraction is already doing ecological damage to more than one in 10 of our rivers.
And awareness of the dangers that are threatening a resource so vital to life must be at the heart of any and all efforts made by both the Government and the EU.
We welcome the Government's support of the 'catchment management' pilot schemes that are already running, which foster local involvement and will help to safeguard water resources. Price increases may well be an inevitable part of helping to secure our water supplies in the future.
If we are to ask people to pay more for this crucial resource in challenging economic times, we must ensure that they fully understand what they are paying extra for. They must feel connected to their local areas and know the benefits that freshwater lakes, rivers and streams provide to their local wildlife and ecosystems. Without the active involvement of local groups and individuals who know and care for the freshwater bodies where they live, we will struggle to rise to the challenge of ensuring proper protection of our water environment as an uncertain future unfolds."