A fresh water future

A fresh water future

In the UK our freshwaters are under stress like never before. Pollution from farming, wastewater and sewage, and impermeable urban surfaces is precipitating a steady decline in our water’s health despite a raft of existing regulation aimed at protecting it.

On top of this, climate change is exacerbating these challenges through droughts, floods and extreme weather.

The public and politicians are gradually waking up to this. But what can be done? We need food, we need housing, we need infrastructure. But above all we need a healthy environment – with freshwater as its lifeblood – to sustain us.

Approaches to modern water governance and regulation have their roots in water privatisation in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s. Since then there has been modification to the regulatory regime but fundamentally it remains similar whilst the climate and demographic pressures and societal values which underpinned it have changed considerably.

Britain's exit from the EU has presented opportunities to manage much of our land differently, with the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) having potential to drive forward delivery of good environmental stewardship and enhancement. But is this drifting away from its initial vision and ambition?

Other systemic challenges which have impacts on our water – potentially serious though relatively poorly understood – such as highway runoff and forever chemicals need bringing up the agenda with decision-makers.

The chronic decline in the health of our fresh waters and our failure to plan for the impacts of climate change are clear signals that we cannot afford to go forward with the same conservative and modest approach to recovering the health of our freshwaters in the face of such a multitude of challenges. We need a fresh water future.

So how do we achieve healthy rivers, lakes and seas and a resilient water system for people?

From sewage pollution to flood and drought resilience, this is a space for CIWEM research, opinion, interviews and guest features on how we can manage water better in the future.

Perspectives on water management: Discussions with water sector leaders

Achieving a fresh water future will need ambitious change across the water sector. In a series of articles that will expand through 2023 we speak to a range of senior water leaders about the state of things, what needs to change and how.

A fresh water future - John Curtin, Environment Agency A fresh water future - Peter Simpson, Anglian Water A fresh water future - Mark Lloyd, The Rivers Trust The consumers' views - Emma Clancy, CCW Five more wasted years? Missed opportunities in the PR24 Price Review Methodology - Nik Perepelov, RSPB


Read our research reports on water management issues. These have been developed collaboratively with experts from academia, planning, local government, engineering, and water and environmental management.

A Fresh Water Future

An independent review of water sector performance and governance and a co-created expert, stakeholder and public vision for future water management in the UK.

Read A Fresh Water Future report, summary and supporting info

River water quality and storm overflows: A systems approach to maximising improvement

This report considers how a systems approach encompassing a wide range of solutions and interventions will be necessary to effectively tackle sewage pollution from storm overflows.

Read reports on a systems approach to tackling storm overflows

Surface water management: A review of the opportunities and challenges

This report provides a review on the opportunities and challenges in delivering surface water management, especially as it’s the most common flood risk, yet it remains the Cinderella of flooding sources.

With flash flooding such as that which hit parts of England in May 2023 and London in July 2021 projected to become more prevalent as extreme weather occurs more frequently, the need to manage surface water flood risk is crucial. 

Read Surface water management: A review of the opportunities and challenges

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