River water quality and storm overflows: CIWEM project kicks off with stakeholder workshop

Management & Regulation

The first of five workshops to inform CIWEM’s project on taking a systems approach to tackling storm overflows begin tomorrow, Tuesday 7th September.

CIWEM’s study, which is generously funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, will seek to answer a range of questions focusing in on stakeholder views concerning the scale of the challenge, ambition over the extent of progress, willingness to pay and timescales. It will also look at what an appropriate approach to driving solutions might look and feel like particularly in the context of wider challenges such as climate change adaptation and resilience, decarbonisation, surface water management, placemaking, nature recovery and health and wellbeing.

The project will bring a wide range of stakeholders together, from local community groups to national NGOs, planners, water companies, highways professionals, and a range of government and regulator representatives. It also brings systems-thinking experts together to look at the challenge and consider where the most effective intervention points might be in the system.

The issue of sewage pollution has captured plenty of media attention of the past two years in particular and has also caught the eye of Ministers who convened a Storm Overflows Taskforce to consider ways of tackling the problem.

CIWEM's director of policy Alastair Chisholm said: “There are various plans and commitments being developed by government, including some that look like they will be included in law through the Environment Bill. This is fantastic but they’re a step on a journey that won’t lead to the best possible long-term outcomes if they focus on the water industry only.

"The point of looking at the challenge through a systems lens is that there are many, many factors that influence how bad the problem is, and how effectively it can be fixed. This needs to consider how development and transport also have a bearing, what the root causes of these excessive discharges are and where policy change can deliver the most lasting and cost-effective improvement.

"This starts with listening to all stakeholders and understanding what they want to see, then working together to work out how it might best be delivered – and what needs to change for that to happen.”

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