“Water is the most important thing there is” – Remarks by Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Water, 3 March 2022

“Water is about the most important thing there is: it’s essential for life and everything else. Water – its quantity and its quality – is the single biggest X factor for the state of nature. And as someone said to me a few years ago, the thing about water is that it gets everywhere. So you’d better make sure you have the right amount, of the right quality, in the right places.

If we want to fix water we need to fix the climate

Let’s start with the strategic picture. The biggest determinant of the state of our waters in fifty years won’t be what the Environment Agency or Parliament or the government or the water companies do but what happens to our climate.

………..Water quality is a big issue.

Some things are better than they were. Largely down to tougher regulation, there are now far fewer serious pollution incidents damaging our waters than three decades ago, sewage treatment works now discharge much lower amounts of harmful chemicals into our rivers, and the bathing waters around our coasts are in the best condition they have been since we started monitoring them.

Some things are flatlining. Only 14% of our rivers meet the criteria for good ecological status, and that number has stayed the same for the last several years. That’s because we are still seeing too much pollution from sewage, farming, industry and road-run off. And some things are getting worse, with new threats to our waters, including microplastics and so-called forever chemicals.

…………Water quantity – too much or too little – is an even bigger issue.

Let’s start with too much. We face a growing risk of catastrophic flooding as the climate changes.

The good news is that over the last decade, while storms and rainfall have progressively worsened, we have actually seen a reduction in the numbers of properties flooded as a direct result of the government’s investment in flood defence.”

The full speech can be found here.

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