River testing

What we are doing

Learn more about what we're doing to improve the region's rivers, lakes and seas.

Investing for a stronger, greener, healthier North West

In 2022, we committed to delivering £230 million in environmental improvements, leading to 115 miles of improved waterways and made four pledges:

Pledge 1: Reducing our impact on river health, Pledge 2: Being open and transparent about performance and plans, Pledge 3: Making our rivers beautiful and Pledge 4: Creating more opportunities to enjoy rivers and waterways.

Find out how we're tracking against these here.

More recently, we’ve been re-wiggling rivers, re-introducing species such as the water vole, encouraging the hen harrier population to recover and fish to return to our rivers. In addition, we’ve created a team of River Rangers dedicated to protecting and preserving the environment, undertaking litter picks, taking water samples and working with local communities to create better rivers.

Delivering improvements

The Environment Act of 2021 placed new requirements on Government and the water sector to reduce the impact of storm overflow operation. In the Government’s Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, we are required to:

  • improve all storm overflows discharging into or near every designated bathing water; and improve 75% of overflows discharging to high priority nature sites by 2035
  • tackle all remaining storm overflows covered, regardless of location, by 2050
  • address those storm overflows associated with ‘Reasons for Not Achieving Good’ (RNAGs) ecological status wherever we have identified the best value solution

The water sector’s recently published national storm overflow plan for England sets out the biggest proposed investment of its kind to reduce storm overflow operation. It is expected to cost £19 billion in the North West region alone. This will enable us to meet the new requirements of the Environment Act, bringing a massive reduction in sewer pollution and ensuring that storm overflows each operate less than 10 times a year.

Between now and 2030, we propose to invest £3 billion improvements at 437 sites across the North West. We’re already having a positive impact: Find out how we’re reducing spills and improving water quality.

With 2,264 storm overflows across the North West, we cannot tackle them all in one go and will focus first on those that discharge into environmentally sensitive places. We cannot shut down wastewater networks while we make these improvements so in some areas the sequencing of investment will be made to ensure continuity of service to customers.

Specific programmes and initiatives

Some of our existing and new programmes and initiatives are outlined below:

  • Our ambition to change the wastewater system and drive a massive reduction in sewer pollution requires us to think differently. As well as the UK’s biggest storm overflow investment plan, it’s also one of the largest ever environmental improvement programmes – and to ensure we deliver, we’ve created a dedicated rainwater management team, whose entire focus will be to better manage rainfall and surface water.

    The team will look at new ways of dealing with excess water at times of heavy rainfall. This will involve separating out pipes to reduce the number of combined systems as well as installing new storage tanks and innovative nature-based solutions, essential in preventing overflows into rivers, flooding of homes and businesses. Some of our initiatives include:

    • Increasing the capacity of our 49,000 mile sewer network to reduce the amount of sewer water spilling into rivers by 60% by 2030
    • Protecting 125 miles of cleaner rivers to promote biodiversity and wildlife
    • Driving £146m in sustainable rainwater management solutions to better manage rainfall in Greater Manchester
    • Encouraging developers to embed sustainable drainage solutions in new developments
  • Nature based solutions (NbS) include source water protection, catchment management, natural flood management, wetlands restoration, water harvesting, agricultural best practice, afforestation, and sustainable drainage systems, amongst others.

    These activities enhance the natural water cycle through regulating the flow of rainwater, creating environments to facilitate natural sedimentation, and filtering processes, allowing sediments and nutrients to remain in soils, enhancing biodiversity and enhancing human well-being.

    Find out more

  • It’s our job to take care of the drainage water from buildings. One growing area for better managing rainfall is through Sustainable Drainage Systems, otherwise known as SuDS. These are planted and/or constructed features that slow down rainwater runoff mimicking natural drainage and reducing the volume and pressure placed on the drainage system.

    By slowing the water, we can help manage flooding, improve water quality, and protect wildlife and plants.

    Find out more