Select Committee on European Communities Eighth Report



The Water Services Association, the Water Companies Association and the North of Scotland Water Authority

  30.    Representatives of the water industry also expressed a general welcome for the draft Directive and the river basin approach. They suggested that the definition of "good status" in Article 4 could be improved by making it clear that it should include "compliance with appropriate environmental quality standard values where relevant, a balanced and sustainable ecosystem consistent with local conditions, minimum quality standards related to the actual or potential use, (and) sustainable yield/flows appropriate to the range of normal climatic conditions". They also suggested a re­ordering of the Directive to reflect more closely the approach to investment planning normally applied in business. They felt that the catchment planning process should take more account of water resource development and not simply rely on demand management; and that the costs of the proposed measures should be properly taken into account and explained to the public, so that customers' willingness to pay for them could be assessed. Most of their points had been made on a Europe-wide basis in the joint paper by EUREAU and EWWG[15], provided by the Water Services Association (WSA) as written evidence (pp 47-55; QQ 153-61).

  31.    Mr Cockburn, of the North of Scotland Water Authority, said he would welcome SEPA being given powers in line with those of the EA in England and Wales. For example, controls over abstraction would protect water authorities' own abstractions from interference by others (Q 162).

  32.    WSA representatives found the draft lacking in clarity on the level of decision making (Q 163). The definition of "good" needed to be flexible, to reflect the varying circumstances across Europe: it was quite legitimate for the Community to establish common goals, but details of implementation should be left to Member States. All this should be on the basis of transparency and fair reporting on the state of water across Europe. Like other witnesses, they felt the 2010 deadline was unrealistic (Q 167). They were in favour of the environmental quality standard approach as opposed to fixed limit values as in the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (Q 169). They felt that the significance of climate change to decisions on resource development and demand management was not properly taken into account in the draft (Q 175). So far, water supply had not been a constraint on development (Q 188).

  33.    Views differed across the country and between companies on the efficacy of metering, but the WSA welcomed the Government's review of charging (QQ 183-4). If full recovery of environmental costs were to be implemented, the revenue generated should be ploughed back into environmental improvements (Q 186). It was not for the water industry to set environmental standards, but it had a role in pointing out the costs and practical implications of proposed standards so that they could be debated and understood by the community at large (QQ 191-3).

WRc plc

  34.    WRc (formerly known as the Water Research Centre) generally echoed comments by the water industry, particularly on the over-optimistic timetable. Like the Environment Agency, they saw a future in the developing science of assessment of ecological quality. In their view it called for a Europe-wide research programme, which WRc (as convenor of the European Environment Agency's Topic Centre on Inland Waters) was well placed to lead (pp 94-5).

The Director General of Water Services (OFWAT)

  35.    The Director General, in written evidence, put it to us that it was important for Ministers to be aware of the costs of any change in policy or standards when making decisions about the setting of new or improved environmental standards; that efficient use of water should take precedence over new infrastructure or increased abstraction; that it would help the conservation of resources if water companies had a statutory duty to use their charging powers to promote economy; that Member States should be free to decide how best to address questions of affordability for domestic consumers; that estimating the costs of achieving "good" status was not possible without reliable information on the present quality of ground waters; and that the costs of compliance must necessarily influence the assessment of whether the timescale for compliance was reasonable (pp 73-6).

The Consumers' Association and the OFWAT National Customer Council

  36.    Both consumer bodies were in general accord with the Director General. They were particularly concerned by the lack of detailed costings. They would like to see a more thorough application of the "polluter pays" principle and stronger representation of the interests of water customers in the development of water policy (pp 68-9, 76-9).

15   The bodies respectively representing the water supply industry and the waste water collection and treatment industry in the Member States of the EU and EFTA. Back

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