Some notes about Water

Flooding and the mounting concerns about CSO overflows have galvanised the UK government to try to “do something”. As so often, the immediate concerns tend to dominate longer-term thinking, but at least the issues get aired.  The Environment Act and the coming periodic review of water prices in 2024 (PR24), plus the public pressure on sewerage, are providing the focus for change.

  • Lesson one is obvious – and nevertheless often ignored. If more houses are built on the flood plains, these new houses and the existing houses already on the flood plain will be vulnerable to future floods.
  • Lesson two is that as the upper parts of river catchments are ploughed up and crops open to soil erosion are planted in these sensitive areas, rivers will silt up.
  • Lesson three is that concrete solutions – straightening rivers and digging ditches – can often make matters worse by speeding up the flow of rivers and getting the water into the areas vulnerable to flooding much faster.

None of these has been learned. Insurance policies across the economy subsidise flood insurance in vulnerable areas and create perverse incentives. Agricultural subsidies continue to support the planting of maize and similar crops in sensitive areas, whilst the environmental schemes within the ELMS (Environmental Land Management Schemes) are not robustly capturing flood risk considerations, in part because they are siloed and separate from catchment management.

We can do much better. River catchments need to be managed on a system-wide basis. They need a system operator – analogous to the system operator function for the electricity networks. Catchment natural capital plans, catchment natural capital accounts, and the integration of flood management with the incentives of water companies and farmers could produce a much better answer, at lower total cost.

Latest publication

ADA conference

ADA (Association of Drainage Authorities) 2021 conference

November 10, 2021

Water Video

Keynote presentation to the ADA 2021 conference

Publications

  • Publication Water Water - what is going on?
    September 13, 2021

    With rising discontent with the water sector, what has gone wrong, and what can be done to address the issues?
  • Publication Water Floods, water company regulation and catchments: time for a fundamental rethink
    March 2, 2020

    Floods happen. They always will. The question is how to limit their impact. Short of stopping the rain, there are several obvious strategies: holding water upstream; slowing flows; building walls and other physical barriers; and building resilience into p
  • Publication Water Who owns the water companies?
    July 24, 2018

    Who owns the water companies? Are publicly quoted companies better than private equity and infrastructure owned companies? Does it really matter? All sorts of claims are being made, and the merit of the discussion is that it asks very good questions...
  • Publication Water Water Boarding
    February 14, 2018

    The water industry is in play - with the regulators, and with the politicians. Labour proposes to renationalise the water companies, and the government and the regulators are determined to toughen up the regulation to show that privatisation works for...
  • Video Water Water Boarding
    February 14, 2018

    The water industry is in play - with the regulators, and with the politicians. Labour proposes to renationalise the water companies, and the government and the regulators are determined to toughen up the regulation to show that privatisation works for...
  • Presentation Water The Future of Flood Management
    May 17, 2017

    Presentation for Floodex Conference
  • Publication Water Flood defence: time for a radical rethink
    January 5, 2016

    Flooding crises tend to follow an established pattern. First, there is immediate help and assistance. Then second, there is a “review”. On occasions, this leads to a third stage of genuine reform, but in most cases “sticking plasters” are applied. These a
  • Publication Water Water Catchment management, abstraction and flooding: the case for a catchment system operator and coordinated competition
    May 7, 2015

    Since 2010 there have been a number of piecemeal reforms and developments across the water sector. These have included: the periodic review of the water and sewerage companies; the provision of further financing for the Environment Agency to address flood
  • Publication Water The Draft Water Bill
    September 10, 2012

    Such a mix of concerns provides the backdrop to the focus of the Draft Bill, and this critique starts off by considering what the aims and objectives of the proposed legislation are, before turning to its central contention that competition is the primary
  • Publication Water A new regulatory model for water: the periodic review, financial regulation and competition
    May 6, 2008

    Water regulation has been a rollercoaster ride for both the companies and the regulators.
1 2

Receive monthly updates from Dieter Helm

© Dieter Helm. All rights reserved.Copyright & Terms