Our watery places

Carys Goodwin, leading Ofwat’s review of environmental policy, talks about the need to look after our watery places.

On Tuesday 23 April, 16 year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg spoke at the UK Parliament. Her message was as clear as it was true – that if we are to address climate change before it’s too late, we have to start now. Our future depends on it.

Since beginning the ‘school strike for climate’ movement, Greta has shot to fame around the world. She has spoken to world leaders and campaigners, at TEDx and the World Economic Forum. Importantly, she has spoken on behalf of an entire generation of passionate young people who are invested in making change for the better.

Strike: School strike climate change protestors in London earlier this year

At Ofwat, we are one of the regulators of perhaps our most precious natural resource – water. We can’t live without it. We need it to flow from the taps and fill our sinks, and we need rivers, oceans, lakes four our health and wellbeing. As a result, water companies fulfil an incredibly important role in our lives – they’re the distributers and the stewards of that irreplaceable resource.

Climate change poses a big threat to water. It means long, hot days and prolonged drought in some places, and relentless floods in others. It will place stress on our waterways and ecosystems. It affects the way we need to balance how much water people use with how much we have.

It will also exacerbate places where the environment is already degrading, impeding ecosystems from acting normally and performing the processes that are vital for keeping our waterways healthy and alive. Taking care of our environment, and improving natural places, is important not just because we love to play in rivers or swim in the ocean, or because we have precious species we need to help thrive – it is important for ensuring we’re resilient to the changes that climate instability will bring.

This means that the water sector ought to take messages from people like Greta Thunberg incredibly seriously.

As part of our work on a vision for the water sector and a strategy for Ofwat, we’re thinking carefully about how we can work together to ensure we’re doing what we can to protect and enhance our environment, and to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

It’s a big, complicated task, and will require people all across the water sector and the broader environmental movement to work together. It means thinking outside the box about how we connect the dots throughout the water system – from how and where we get our water, to what we use to build our infrastructure, to how we speak to people about their water use, to asking what communities want for their natural spaces, to how we treat what we flush down the loo.

We’ve already started that collaborative work, talking to people all around the place who’re experts in their watery, environmental fields. And we’re working with our other regulators, including the Environment Agency, to start looking at some shared aspirations and goals that will help drive the sector forward.

We don’t yet know exactly where this work will take us. So to keep it going, we want to spend the next few months talking, engaging and ultimately shaping a direction going forward with our partners.

One thing we do know is this: there’s an opportunity for the sector to transform how it does things, so that the future we’re catapulting towards is one full of hope – where we’re resilient, and healthy, and dynamic.

Do you have any views or comments on this story or the topics it covers? Send us your thoughts at [email protected]. Watch, follow or join us on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram – and post your thoughts using the hashtag #waterstories.