This article was originally published on Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management.
“This week William Evison, Associate Director of PwC, presents his thoughts on delivering natural capital solutions in the water sector. William also spoke at our ‘Valuing the Environment 2016’ conference on 24th November, presentations from the event are now available to view on our website here. E: William.firstname.lastname@example.org T: @Will_Evison
It’s fair to ask, what can improved management of natural capital actually achieve in the water sector? And is it worth the effort? I’d answer ‘a lot’, and ‘yes’! And there’s growing evidence to support this:
- Well targeted restoration and re-vegetation of land has been used to improve raw water quality and mitigate downstream flood risk at reduced cost.
- Informing and incentivising farmers to improve land management has succeeded in improving raw water quality significantly, avoiding the need for costly water treatment facilities.
- Artificial wetlands have been used extensively to treat non-toxic waste water at radically reduced costs and to manage overflows in extreme flood events.
These are just a few of the solutions being applied cost-effectively around the world, and to a limited extent in the UK. So why aren’t we seeing far greater application of natural capital solutions in the UK water sector?
There are three principal reasons:
1) Most water companies are not employing ‘state of the art’ methods to identify potential natural capital interventions. This is understandable; upstream data models are typically designed to predict water flow or quality based on the forecast weather conditions in a catchment. This is quite different from approaches designed to identify how physically altering the conditions in a catchment – for example by re-wetting peat, planting trees or reducing fertiliser use – could deliver cost-effectively against operational objectives. Such approaches require both new predictive geo-physical modelling capabilities and the integration of new economic datasets to value potential costs and benefits – all entirely achievable but not yet widely used in the sector…”