Senior water efficiency group for England winds up

Nicci Russell, Managing Director of influential water efficiency campaigning organisation Waterwise, has announced that the Senior Water Demand Reduction Group (SWDRG) for England, which she had been asked to Chair by Defra in 2020, has been closed – having set out on the record a clear suite of recommendations for government, regulators and the industry to take urgent action on.

The SWDRG had been commissioned by Defra, confirmed by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rt Hon George Eustace MP, in his July 2021 written Ministerial statement, in which he set out commitments to drive demand management, with the words:

‘These measures, along with the actions of water companies, will support the delivery of the ambitions set out in the National Framework to reduce personal water consumption to 110 litres per person per day by 2050, without affecting the quality of life and the enjoyment of water used by households. Waterwise has agreed to chair a group of industry experts, reporting to me regularly, that will track delivery of these stretching commitments. This work will support the measures set out in the Environment Bill to further help us secure long-term, resilient water and wastewater services, making sure that we have a cleaner, greener and more resilient country for the next generation.’

The SWDRG comprised leaders from across the English water sector – its membership can be found here.

In December 2021 Nicci issued a report to Defra Ministers and the CEOs of Ofwat, the Environment Agency and the wholesale water companies operating in England. This report welcomed government commitments, including a statutory water demand target and a mandatory water efficiency label for products. However, it also set out a raft of measures to help meet the level of demand management required to ensure essential water resilience in England, including government and regulatory policy to drive down water use in homes, buildings and businesses. It also called on government and the sector to centre water efficiency in work to tackle and adapt to the climate crisis, and to support a change in customer behaviour. Finally, it urged that the level of ambition in the Environment Act demand target be set at a level higher than existing ambition, to drive further action.

The report received a great deal of support across the water sector, and Former Water Minister Rebecca Pow wrote asking members to prioritise its contents. There was a strong feeling in the SWDRG that it was not its role to filter out recommendations on the basis of political or regulatory appetite – indeed the SWDRG noted political and regulatory appetite as one of the barriers to progress – and that its role was to make recommendations and not to undertake implementation, which was for the audiences of the letter. In this context, the SWDRG did agree to prioritise the recommendations, whilst stating clearly that all recommendations should remain in play, given that existing measures were, and continue to be, not enough to meet the necessary levels of demand reduction for people, the environment, and the economy. The results of the prioritisation can be found here.

The SWDRG consistently noted the absence of any budget for it to commission new work, in contrast with the significant budget allocated to RAPID to drive supply-side measures – despite the fact that demand management is expected to make up a larger part of England’s water needs in the near and further future.

Nicci Russell, Waterwise MD and independent Chair of the former SWDRG, said:

‘I’m very proud of what the SWDRG has achieved. I’d like to express my warmest thanks to all members of the SWDRG who contributed their time and expertise. We have set out clear recommendations for government, regulators and the industry. We must reduce our water use for the environment, people and the economy – we can’t carry on as we are. The SWDRG has been clear all along that existing commitments will not be enough to do this. We put some flags in the ground in the hope that they will be picked up – our homes, buildings and businesses need to be more water-efficient, we need to support everyone to ensure they use water wisely (and measure the impact our support has on actual water use), and it’s a no-brainer to factor the contribution from large-scale water efficiency into the climate crisis – for one, it can help reduce energy bills, in the current cost of living crisis. And in this very dry period, when water companies are urging customers to use water wisely, we urge government, regulators, and water companies to invest in greater water efficiency. We are all responsible for taking action.

‘Unfortunately, against the advice of the Group, the former Minister told us that she believes measures already in train in England will be enough to tackle the deficit. Similarly, we have seen little evidence of Ofwat engaging with the Group’s recommendations for its own regulation, particularly in setting the next price review for water companies through PR24. We are right in the heart of climate change this summer, seeing it with our own eyes and in our own dry lawns. Without further action, this will only get worse. Water companies, government and regulators all have a role to play – as do all of us at home and at work. It won’t work if every party doesn’t do more than they’re doing already.

‘Members of the SWDRG remain personal and passionate ambassadors for ambitious water efficiency for the sake of the environment, people and the economy, and we’ll all continue with this work. As Waterwise, we’ll continue to challenge government, regulators, and the sector, as well as through our campaigns, to ensure everyone plays their part. To support this agenda, Waterwise is very excited to be launching in September 2022 our new UK Water Efficiency Strategy for the UK, which sets out a number of strategic objectives to drive ambitious water efficiency, developed with the input and engagement of the sector. Do follow us on social media for news of this and share within your communities.’

Sarah McMath, CEO of MOSL, said:

‘I have welcomed the opportunity to be part of the SWDRG in the capacity of Deputy Chair. I believe that our perspective as operator of the non-household water market and the data insight we can provide has played a key role in supporting the SWDRG in bringing together recommendations based on evidence and work already underway. In recent months we have seen a greater focus on the contribution business customers can make to demand management and we have welcomed Waterwise’ draft UK strategy and the inclusion of a strategic objective specific to non-household water usage. I am also pleased to have been appointed as the Chair of the new UK Water Efficiency Steering Group.

‘Our work must continue. With the ongoing changes to the political landscape in England and extreme periods of hot weather and drought expected, we urge Ministers to continue to focus on the long-term and the demand challenges we face as a nation, whilst managing the very real impact of climate change, the cost-of-living crisis and increasing population growth. It is essential that our future water supplies are secured, and that the environment remains top of the agenda. This will require not only a shift in customer behaviour which must be driven top down, but investment to enable the water industry to develop and implement innovative and long-term solutions for future customers and our natural environment.’