The new Water Act seeks to secure resilience in the UK’s supply and sewerage systems, and smooth the way to a free market.

The Act, which received Royal Assent yesterday (14 May), will also bring forward measures to address the availability and affordability of insurance for those households at high flood risk.

In addition to flood and drought management, another of the new Act’s primary aims is to ensure a smooth transition to the free market over the longer term through the Open Water Programme. It provides measures to enable all business, charity and public sector customers in England to switch their water and sewerage supplier, and for businesses to provide new sources of water or sewerage treatment services.

A national water supply network will be created, making it easier for water companies to buy and sell water from each other and enabling owners of small-scale water storage to sell excess water into the public supply.

Scottish agreement

The Act also establishes a cross-border arrangement with Scotland. The Water Industry Commission for Scotland (WICS) welcomed the news. Chief executive, Alan Sutherland said: “Non-household customers in Scotland have been enjoying the benefits of a competitive retail market since 2008. We therefore very much welcome the fact that similar arrangements are now being developed in England and we look forward to seeing a much larger Anglo-Scottish market from 2017.

“Customers in Scotland have seen improved services, lower bills and much more tailored services, including advice on water efficiency and other environmental services. The new market will benefit both business and, ultimately, household customers and will be particularly helpful for companies such as chains or public sector organisations that operate nationally."

Sutherland added: “There is a great deal of work to do between now and 2017 when the market is set to open. In designing the market a primary concern will be to ensure that business and public sector customers have access to consistent and transparent information about the choices and opportunities available to them, and can act on this information with ease. We will also be keen to ensure that new entrants are able to compete on an even footing with the current regional monopolies.”

Preserving natural resources

To view the Water Act 2014 in detail,
click here.

Ministers will now be able to set the level to which a water company needs to plan to cope with droughts. The Act gives water and sewerage regulation body Ofwat a new over-arching duty to take greater account of long-term resilience and changes to improve its regulation of the water industry.

Simon Festing, chief executive of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), who were involved in the consultation process, said: We are delighted that the Act requires water supply and sewerage undertakers to implement a range of measures to manage water resources in sustainable ways, increase efficiency in the use of water, and reduce demand for water, so as to reduce pressure on water resources.”

Measures are included to restore the sustainable abstraction of water and the Act also encourages the use of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) by clarifying that building and maintenance of SuDS can be a function of sewerage undertakers.

Other measures

The Act also provides powers to streamline the environmental permitting framework which enables operators to apply for a single rather than multiple permits with the inclusion of licensing schemes for water abstraction and impounding, fish passes and flood defence consents.

It reduces the bureaucracy relating to the governance of Internal Drainage Boards and transfers the responsibility for maintaining main river maps to the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales.

Under the new regulations, it will also be easier for developers and new water or sewage companies to connect new building developments to the water mains and sewerage system.