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Wakeham speaks at World Water Technology Innovation Summit

Wakeham speaks at World Water Technology Innovation Summit


For society, water is brought into the public and political spheres in all its complexities: burst pipes, flooded roads, bans on hoses, and sewage on beaches. And the culmination of many such moments holds the key to a bright future for Britain's water infrastructure.

Public outcry, fueled by growing environmental awareness and a thirst for clean, reliable water, is a powerful catalyst for change. Issues of water quality and quantity are no longer niche concerns. This is a mainstream demand and we can hear it loud and clear. Our desire for clean, abundant water is shared by the general public.

Here's a shout out to the eNGOs and campaigners who have worked to keep water issues at the forefront of people's minds. This is a transformative moment for British water.

But it's not the first time. In the 1800s, when cesspools were replaced with flush toilets and pipes, drinking water quality reached its lowest level. A cholera outbreak in London killed thousands of people. There were also many committees. But that wasn't the only thing driving investment in water management. It was the “Great Stink” of 1858, which shut down Parliament House and demanded caution from politicians. And that change can be seen from outside the hotel's windows today. Joseph Bazalgette's sewer system and the levees that covered it are rarely noticed, but they are a fundamental asset to today's London.

But that's not the end of the story, right? Bazalgette's cut-off sewers drained most of London's rivers, dumping sewage into the tidal rivers downstream, only to flow back when the tide came in.

Thus began a cycle of innovation and investment that, while tackling pressing problems, raised other questions that have characterized water management for the past 150 years, not just in the UK but everywhere. Bazalgette's 318 Million Bricks – I mention it because it is included in the elementary school curriculum. In the 1950s, the Thames was declared biologically extinct. No fish, no insects, nothing.

Fast forward to 1989. I was starting out in the world of water management, and the privatization of water utilities brought another breakthrough moment. New ways to attract investment in water infrastructure. Over the past 30 years, new regulations and regulatory authorities have brought about incredible improvements in aspects of water quality.

For example, comparing Blackpool in 1990 to Blackpool today shows how innovation, investment and partnerships have played a key role in cleaning up our rivers, seas and estuaries. When I was a child, sewage flowed down the coast every day. We have planned, regulated and invested to reduce organic pollution, ammonia and nutrients, and the results are proven. The River Thames here in London, biologically dead in living memory, now supports 125 species of fish, 400 species of invertebrates, seahorses and seals.

But the story, the pressure, the expectations moved forward. New challenges are emerging, including pollution from emerging chemicals and microplastics. Pollution incidents are still impacting our waters, including in Blackpool last summer. Our population is larger than Bazalgette imagined, and climate change is making us less resilient to water stress.

In other words, one generation's innovation becomes the next generation's problem. And what you learn from investing, you can also learn about regulation. There's no need to look too closely at this slide, but it's a water industry performance dashboard. The water industry has been criticized, but so have regulators.

What's interesting is that the criticism is driven by surveillance. In the UK, the Environment Agency requires storm flood monitoring. This is an unprecedented level of transparency that reveals the performance of your network.

No other country has this level of oversight, and public attention to the water industry's performance is as high as it is public. We're constantly monitoring this, talking to the industry and working together to discuss what the issues are. But when we put this out there, the public wants to see it, politicians want to see it, investors want to see it.

Regulation isn't just about boots on the field, it's also a way to tell a story about performance. Also related to this conference, we are transforming the way we regulate our industry.

We announced yesterday that we will quadruple inspection rates for the water industry next year and secure more staff. We also use data from industry, rainfall data, and environmental data to create all kinds of visuals that really show us where there are discrepancies between what we expect and what we actually see. To do. This not only facilitates regulatory efforts, but also helps the industry understand where it needs to focus its investment and maintenance efforts.

It has to be a collaborative effort. Everyone wants a robust regulator. The Environment Agency is a powerful regulator. But in reality, it's our collective efforts to make sure investments and maintenance are in the right places that makes the difference.

You need to be realistic. The water industry is not entirely responsible for the state of water in the UK or other countries. Storm flooding in the headlines contributes to around 7% of the UK's clean and abundant water problems. This is just a small part of the broader water industry. Actually, agriculture is a bigger factor, roads and transportation are a bigger factor, but you don't hear people talking about them.

There is much work to be done. The UK will see another unprecedented investment in its water industry over the next five years. Providing sustainable solutions requires thinking ahead. There is a polarized debate between concrete pouring and nature-based solutions. We have to do everything everywhere and we don't have a choice.

We need solutions that are tailored to the location and require innovation and investment. And you need to make sure that the assets you build are properly maintained. And it requires funding and the attention it deserves. But above all, I think we need to take a long-term view so that the solutions we put in place are fit for the future.

We have previously completely transformed water management in the UK. A window is perfect for this moment. Walking along the levees here, you'll see something innovative and transformative in how we've built assets to protect our water environment. And that means we've confirmed that we can make it happen.

If we could do it 150 years ago, we can do it again. thank you.




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