There are examples of bespoke funding arrangements available in the UK, such as the Herne Hill & Dulwich Flood Alleviation Scheme, which involved a public-private partnership between Southwark Council and Thames Water, with support from the UK Environment Agency. A funding gap in the original proposal was bridged by combining funding streams for Thames Water’s sewer surcharge and the local authority’s overland flooding allocation, in a public-private partnership.
One of the regulatory barriers to the implementation of integrated water management projects in the UK includes Ofwat’s five-year asset management plan (AMP) investment periods for the water sector in England and Wales. Given the long-term change required and multiple projects necessary to deliver an IWM project successfully, five-year plans to reduce storm overflows into the environment might miss the broader social and ecosystems opportunities made possible by IWM.
Defra/the EA’s flood and coastal erosion risk management (FCERM) Strategy is considered to provide the means to be the continuum between droughts and floods. Water companies’ 25-year drainage and water management plans (DWMPs) were seen as a gamechanger in delivering partnership working and developing resilient infrastructure using nature-based and hybrid sustainable drainage solutions. DWMPs feed into utilities’ five-year business plans, but the lack of certainty in the perceived performance of NBS in meeting regulatory requirements is a potential barrier to delivering IWM projects. Combining these with the Water Resource Management Plans (WRMPs) could create real opportunities for IWM.
The urgency of meeting environmental targets, driven by public and political pressure to tackle storm overflows, is another reason timely delivery of NBS and IWM might not be possible. If these barriers cannot be overcome quickly, it will mean more upsizing of tanks and implementation of traditional means of keeping water out of flood risk areas over the next five years.
Once flooding can be managed where and when it arises, wider climate resilience and water resource issues come together and can be addressed in an integrated way but deciding responsibility for on-going costs for maintenance and operation of new assets represents another perceived blocker for IWM schemes. In Copenhagen, service agreements were introduced with municipalities maintaining all new assets above ground, while the water utilities hold responsibility for underground assets.
The roundtable event confirmed that utilities and local authorities in the Wessex region already have excellent relationships, but funds should be found by local organisations for those increased costs, decisions that would need to be made at a national level.
The need for early engagement across multiple parties and at many levels is critical. That includes water utilities, local authorities, river trusts and drainage boards, but also some bodies like highways, political leaders, and the general public.
Some of these stakeholders may have shared interests, and others that differ; no matter, they need to work together for a holistic strategy. Working in silos, especially around the regulatory five-year AMP cycle, misses the need for the necessary long-term perspective and strategy. It’s about having the right amount of water in the right place, at the right time.
It is crucial to have an ‘open mindset’ to deliver such complex and multi-faceted schemes. This relates to the partners who would be expected to deliver projects, but also the need to change the mindset of how people and communities relate to water as a resource and the water environment.
To ensure the resilience of communities in the future, people need to become more accepting of managing water at surface level, rather than underground. This may require the involvement of social scientists and behaviour change specialists working alongside planners and engineers.
The city of Copenhagen actively sought to be a global leader in IWM through its Cloud Burst initiative. It demonstrates that politicians can be awakened to the reputational capital they can garner by ensuring such schemes are successfully delivered. As the benefits stack up on flood management, green-blue amenities, biodiversity, climate resilience, and cost, their value is effectively communicated and community buy-in follows.