Both the English and Scottish governments have set themselves clean water targets.

England’s 2018 25 year Environment Plan includes targets for clean and plentiful water, and “aims to deliver cleaner air and water in our cities and rural landscapes”. Aims include the reduction of harmful abstraction, protecting biodiversity in our waters, minimising the amount of water lost through leaking pipes by at least 15% by 2025, and minimising the harmful bacteria in our bathing waters by 2030.

Clean water and sanitation are a vital part of Scotland’s Sustainable Development Goals. The goals recognise that the quality of the country’s rivers, lochs, wetlands and seas is vital for Scotland’s economic success as well as its natural environment and the health and wellbeing of the people. Scotland is the world’s first Hydro Nation and aims to become a world leader in the responsible management of its water resources.

While each country has a robust water strategy, recent news reports have brought to light different stories about how well each is doing with regard to clean water targets.

Delays in England

At the end of October, The Telegraph reported that England’s clean water targets have been delayed “amid a row over Rishi Sunak’s commitment to the COP27 climate conference”. The delays contravene the targets set in the 2021 Environment Act, that the government must set new binding targets to protect nature by 31 October 2022 - at the time of writing this blog the promised new targets have yet to be set and may be delayed. In March 2022, The Telegraph also reported the government had scrapped targets for river water quality. The original target was for England’s rivers to be in good overall health by 2027. Green campaigners and wildlife groups said the government was completely out of step with public demand for cleaner and healthier rivers.

The news in October that England had delayed its clean water targets coincided with concerns about the new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s commitment to COP27. At the time the story came out, the PM had announced he would not attend the conference.

New standards implemented in Scotland

When the UK left the EU, MSPs voted through the Europen Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act, which gives Ministers powers to keep pace with EU standards. The aim of the Act is to continue to align with EU policies with a view to rejoining the EU at a future point. At the end of October, the powers granted by the Act were used for the first time to ensure Scotland’s high-quality drinking water aligns with standards set by the EU. The new EU rules are based on the World Health Organization's updated standards with regard to emerging pollutants such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are more commonly referred to as ‘forever chemicals’.

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