Water Industry News

What Is The Water Restoration Fund?

Despite being the world’s most precious resource, water is coming increasingly under threat, with global supplies now struggling under the combined pressures of population growth, climate change, urbanisation, water mismanagement and, of course, pollution.


This latter concern has been the subject of many newspaper headlines over the last couple of years, with water quality around the UK becoming seriously contaminated with sewage and chemicals, the result of agricultural practices and the use of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) that sees effluent discharged into waterways during periods of heavy rainfall to prevent it from backing up into homes and businesses.


While the use of these CSOs is permissible in some circumstances – and, indeed, they form an integral part of the nation’s sewer network – it has come to light in recent years that water companies have been carrying out dry spills, illegally discharging sewage into rivers, lakes and streams even when there has been no rain to speak of.


Furthermore, the state of the UK’s pipe network is such that it’s no longer fit for purpose, with much of it constructed during Victorian times.


It is no longer able to cope with the demands of 21st century society and this has contributed to an increase in accidental sewage spills, in large part because water suppliers have failed to make the necessary investments and upgrades to ensure it continues to be operational and effective.


Plan for Water


To help tackle the situation head on, the government unveiled its Plan for Water last year, with the aim being to make water both clean and plentiful around the country, with four billion additional litres of water needed by 2050 to meet the demands of the future.


All 15,000 CSOs are now being actively monitored so that problems can be identified and resolved quickly, while water companies are now being called upon to make the biggest investment ever in the network.


The Environment Act 2021 has also legislated for stronger regulatory powers to address pollution and hold polluters to account, including unlimited fines, penalties that will go into the new Water Restoration Fund to help improve the environment and keep bills to a minimum.


The Water Restoration Fund


The aim of the new fund is to boost investment in the natural environment, made up of money taken from water company environmental fines and penalties, in addition to the money that suppliers already have to pay to address the impact of pollution incidents that occur in breach of their permit conditions.


Before now, the money accrued from these fines and penalties went straight back to the Treasury, but this is no longer the case and instead funds will be channelled into projects around England to improve the weather environment.

In addition, a range of different projects will also be funded to improve water management, enhance the environment and restore protected sites, with activities including removing invasive species, re-meandering rivers, wetland creation, supporting catchment partnership groups in local delivery and removing barriers so that fish and other species are able to move more naturally through the river network.


Just this week (April 9th), the government announced that up to £11 million in fines and penalties is set to be reinvested back into the restoration fund to drive direct improvements in the water environment.


Grant funding will be offered on a competitive basis to support farmers, landowners, community-led schemes and local groups to improve the capacity and capabilities for projects that improve biodiversity and community access to blue and green spaces in places where water suppliers have had to pay fines.


The fund is open to a range of different organisations, everything from local authorities and national parks to national landscapes, farmers, landowners, non-government organisations and catchment partnerships. There is now an eight-week window in which these groups can apply, with grant awards expected to be handed out from late July onwards.


Maria Spain, chief executive of Natural England, said: “Natural England welcomes the creation of Defra’s Water Restoration Fund, using the money from water company fines and penalties to improve water and wetlands for nature and people, and looks forward to supporting Defra to make good use of the funds now available.


“The fund is a great opportunity for landowners, communities and nature bodies to help make a real difference to the condition of our sites of special scientific interest and to restore natural processes in catchments to provide the nature and health benefits that society needs from water.”


What projects can be funded?


The focus is now on the restoration of inland and estuarine waters and wetlands, such as rivers, streams, headwaters, chalk streams, canals, ponds, lakes, wetlands and estuarine waters.


Open coastal water projects are currently excluded so that investment can be diverted to the highest priority areas, with just 14 per cent of rivers and lakes currently classified as having good ecological status, compared to 45 per cent of coastal waters.


There are two grants available, which can cover up to 100 per cent of all eligible costs.


The development award is a short-term grant of between £75,000 and £250,000, designed to help build capability and plan future projects. Delivery awards, meanwhile, are medium to long-term grants that can help you carry out pre-planned projects, with grant values ranging from £500,000 to £2 million.


Funding can go towards materials purchasing, equipment purchase or hire, monitoring and evaluation activities, contractor or procurement fees, feasibility studies and staff costs that relate directly to the delivery of the project in question.


Applications are open until June 7th. In order to apply, you will need to have a single business identifier number and will need to use the same email address to register that you intend to use for your grant application.


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