Too much water, too little and water of the right quality – playing our part to tackle the climate and nature emergencies

Chris Matthews, Head of Sustainability at United Utilities and vice chair of Greater Manchester Natural Capital Group, spoke at its Natural Capital Conference about the important role that water plays in nature recovery and climate change.

The virtual conference attended by over 400 people from the public, private and third sectors representing interests ranging from highways and infrastructure, health and social care, planning, development and regeneration, nature based solutions and green finance, heard about the work United Utilities is doing and the importance of collaboration to tackle the climate and nature emergencies, from too much water, too little and water of the right quality.

He told the attendees that what is good for water and good for nature is actually good for people too and we need to find measures that connect all three.

Describing some of the initiatives United Utilities is delivering to provide such benefits, he highlighted two in particular - Wastewater Dynamic Network Management and the company’s Catchment Systems Thinking (CaST).

Chris Matthews said, “Wastewater Dynamic Network Management is going to use technology to collect real time data which will help us take a pre-emptive approach to wastewater network problems, so that customers won’t have to tell us when a problem occurs. We will already know of potential flood risk so we can prevent sewer flooding in peoples’ homes and reduce pollution incidents across the beautiful North West.”

Mr Matthews added: “United Utilities’ innovative CaST approach looks at a river catchment as an entire system rather than a series of isolated issues.

“CaST takes us beyond our catchment land, looking at the wider environment, incorporating natural capital decision to consider what is best for the environment, customers and communities by integrating risks and driving multiple natural capital benefits.“

United Utilities recently created a £300,000 CaST Fund from which charities and community groups were able to seek funding to connect people to nature and to find ways to develop natural capital markets . It will help to unlock additional external funding to support environmental improvements in the North West of England.

The conference also heard how collectively society needs to come together to act differently so we become more resilient. For example, how can we limit the amount of surface water entering the combined sewer system, by embedding SUDs into the planning system to not only help slow the flow, but create places for nature.

Or, when it comes to reducing water use, what role is there for building regulations standards to ensure all new homes are built with fittings and appliances that meet a minimum water efficiency label rating.