Oxford-led research says world needs to rethink the value of water

New research published in the journal Science and led by Oxford University is highlighting the accelerating pressure on measuring, monitoring and managing water locally and globally.

The researchers are proposing a new framework to value water for sustainable development to guide better policy and practice.

The scale of the investment for universal and safely-managed drinking water and sanitation is vast, with estimates around $114B USD per year, for capital costs alone.

Oxford Uni valuing waterHowever, the researchers say there is an increasing need to re-think the value of water for two key reasons – not least because of its key role in sustainable development. Water’s value is evident in all of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, notably poverty alleviation and ending hunger, where the connection is long recognised. It also extends to sustainable cities and peace and justice, where the complex impacts of water are only now being fully appreciated.

Growing global concerns over water security

The research is also highlighting growing global concerns over water security. The negative impacts of water shortages, flooding and pollution have placed water related risks among the top 5 global threats by the World Economic Forum for several years running.

In 2015, Oxford-led research on water security quantified expected losses from water shortages, inadequate water supply and sanitation and flooding at approximately $500B USD annually.

Last month the World Bank demonstrated the consequences of water scarcity and shocks: the cost of a drought in cities is four times greater than a flood, and a single drought in rural Africa can ignite a chain of deprivation and poverty across generations.

There is an urgent and global opportunity to re-think the value of water, with the UN/World Bank High Level Panel on Water launching a new initiative on Valuing Water earlier this year, the researchers say. With a growing consensus that valuing water goes beyond monetary value or price, valuing water needs to be seen as a governance challenge in order to better direct future policies and investment.

Published in Science, the study was conducted by an international team led by Oxford University and charts a new framework to value water for the Sustainable Development Goals. However, putting a monetary value on water and capturing the cultural benefits of water are only one step towards achieving this objective.

The researchers suggest that valuing and managing water requires parallel and coordinated action across four priorities: measurement, valuation, trade-offs and capable institutions for allocating and financing water.

Lead author Dustin Garrick, University of Oxford, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, explained:

‘Our paper responds to a global call to action: the cascading negative impacts of scarcity, shocks and inadequate water services underscore the need to value water better. There may not be any silver bullets, but there are clear steps to take. We argue that valuing water is fundamentally about navigating trade-offs. The objective of our research is to show why we need to rethink the value of water, and how to go about it, by leveraging technology, science and incentives to punch through stubborn governance barriers. Valuing water requires that we value institutions.’

Co-author Richard Damania, Global Lead Economist, World Bank Water Practice said:

‘We show that water underpins development, and that we must manage it sustainably. Multiple policies will be needed for multiple goals. Current water management policies are outdated and unsuited to addressing the water related challenges of the 21st century.

“Without policies to allocate finite supplies of water more efficiently, control the burgeoning demand for water and reduce wastage, water stress will intensify where water is already scarce and spread to regions of the world – with impacts on economic growth and the development of water-stressed nations.’

New approaches to water valuation, finance and allocation

Earlier this month Oxford University hosted a one-day forum to advance new approaches to water valuation, finance and allocation. Key research presented at the conference included: (i) the challenges of valuing water, (ii) new tools for navigating the challenges, (iii) financial solutions to the global water infrastructure gap and (iv) using water markets to respond to scarcity and shocks.

Expert speakers at the event included:

  • Dr Richard Damania, Global Lead Economist, Water Global Practice, World Bank;
  • Prof Michael Hanemann, Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics, University of California – Berkeley;
  • Prof Cameron Hepburn, Professor of Environmental Economics, the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School and Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (SSEE), University of Oxford;
  • Dr Guy Hutton, Senior Advisor WASH, UNICEF;
  • Ambika Jindal, Vice President, Sustainable Finance, ING;
  • Dr Xavier Leflaive, Water Team Lead, OECD;
  • Stuart Orr, Freshwater Practice Lead, WWF-International;
  • Henk Ovink, Special Envoy International Water Affairs, Government of the Netherlands;
  • Jennifer Sara, Director, Water Global Practice, World Bank.

Watch the first in a series of keynote presentations from expert speakers at the conference on the Waterbriefing Watch channel to listen to Prof. Michael Hanemann from the University of California – Berkeley outline the major challenges of valuing water.


Council throws support behind M4 relief road plan

Council members in Newport have shown their support behind an M4 relief road.

At a full council meeting held tonight, councillors backed an amendment proposed by the leader of the council, Cllr Debbie Wilcox.

The motion passed reads: “This council accepts the current public inquiry as the legitimate forum for investigating outstanding issues regarding the proposals for an M4 relief road.

“Council has previously expressed support for the M4 relief road as a way of easing traffic congestion in and around Newport and trusts that the public inquiry will reach a balanced conclusion taking into account transport, environmental, public and business concerns in Newport and South East Wales.

“Council calls on the Welsh Government to make a decision on the project and its funding as soon as possible after the current process is concluded.”

Cllr Wilcox said that the M4 is a “critical” road to the Welsh economy, transporting goods and people and serving tourism in Wales.

She said: “The M4 does not meet modern motorway standards.

“It has a volume of cars greater than it was designed for.”

The leader of the council said a public inquiry is still ongoing, and that is where the focus of the motion should be on.

Cllr Wilcox’s amendment came after the leader of the city’s Conservative group, Cllr Matthew Evans, and Langstone ward member Cllr William Routley jointly presented a motion calling on members to officially support the so-called ‘black route’.

Cllr Evans said: “There has been a general consensus across the political divide in this council chamber for as long as I can remember for an M4 relief road.

“There isn’t a week that goes by without reports of accidents and severe delays on the M4, which then impacts on the road networks across the city.”

Cllr Evans said that figures show that, on the M4 stretch between Caldicot and Carmarthenshire, there were 10,809 traffic jams on the past 12 months.

“That is an average of 30 every single day,” he added.

Cllr Evans said pollution levels caused by slow moving traffic is a “real health issue” and that if the relief road goes ahead there would be improvements.

“In just over a year’s time the Severn Bridge tolls will be scrapped, making the situation even more urgent,” he continued. “We have had enough of delays and false dawns.

“It is time to get a move on and, hopefully with the support of this chamber, the Welsh Government will finally get the diggers out.”



Affinity Water warns risk of drought and water restrictions in 2018 is increasing

‘Urgency’ call for M4 relief road around Newport

New report flags up potential role for systems operator in UK water sector

Co-op launches online hazard hotspot map for drivers

Co-op Insurance has today launched a new interactive map enabling drivers to spot England’s incident hotspots, so that they can best plan their driving routes.

The tool, Hazard Hotspots has been created in anticipation of an 18% increase in motor claims this Friday, as drivers hit the roads to secure Black Friday deals.*

Co-op’s tool allows motorists to input the postcode that they’re travelling from and that of their final destination to understand the distance, time it will take and the number of reported collisions which have taken place on that route, so that they can take extra care whilst driving.

Within the tool, routes are colour coded from yellow to orange to red based on the number of collisions reported to police forces across England in the last 12 months.

The tool uses the Department for Transport’s data relating to road traffic collisions, of which 123,353 were reported across England in the last 12 months.**

Of these, 25,157 occurred in London, 22,179 took place in the South East and 13,497 were reported in the East of England.

Rank Region No of incidents reported
1 London 25,157
2 South East 22,179
3 East of England 13,497
4 North West 12,727
5 Yorkshire and Humber 12,454
6 West Midlands 12,242
7 South West 10,640
8 East Midlands 9,865
9 North East 4,592

The Hazard Hotspot tool follows Co-op’s previous interactive map for drivers, Park Smart. The tool was created to allow motorists to see where most vehicle break-ins occur, enabling them to make safer choices when parking.

Nick Ansley, Head of Motor Insurance at the Co-op commented:

“Our claims data shows year on year that Black Friday’s sales do lead to greater traffic on the road and therefore, more incidents.

“Our aim is to help keep people safe on the roads and our new tool is another way we’re hoping to do just that. The new online tool will allow drivers to plan and make informed choices about their driving routes, where possible avoiding areas where most incidents occur.”

Strategic policy statement update highlights Government water sector expectations

The Government’s strategic policy statement setting out its priorities for Ofwat’s regulation of the water sector in England came into force this week on 22 November 2017. Resilience, flood risk, natural capital, customer bills, investor confidence, competition, affordability, bad debt, leakage and transparency are all on the agenda.

The statement, which replaces the previous SPS which was published in March 2013, is intended to complement Ofwat’s existing duties.  Ofwat is required to keep the priorities under review and report on the steps they have taken in response to the Government steer, which places emphasis on areas where it expects Ofwat to lead a shift in the water industry’s strategic direction.

The Government’s priorities for Ofwat are three-fold – securing long-term resilience, protecting customers and promoting markets to drive innovation and unlock efficiencies.

The SPS says that climate change, population growth and changes in consumer behaviour are putting increasing pressure on the water sector in England and that both the sector and the regulatory framework need to adapt.

On resilience, where Ofwat does not have assurance that companies are planning and investing appropriately as part of a strategy to achieve long-term resilience, the regulator will be expected to intervene to ensure that the needs of current and future customers will be met efficiently.

The SPS says that historically, there has been insufficient investment to secure long-term resilience in some regions and that Ofwat should further a reduction in the long-term risk to water supply resilience from drought and other factors, including through new supply solutions, demand management and increased water trading.

The Government expects the regulator to keep the impact of its regulatory framework on the progress of nationally significant water supply infrastructure projects under review and to have regard to National Infrastructure Commission recommendations that the government endorses.

Resilience against flooding and wider risks

The SPS goes on to say that risks to resilience run much wider than the long-term pressures from climate change, population growth and changes in consumer behaviour. The water sector also needs to be able to protect itself from and respond effectively to the range of hazards and threats that in the short-term could impact on service provision, such as flooding of water and wastewater infrastructure, burst water mains or other infrastructure failures, or physical and cyber-attacks.

Ofwat should challenge water companies to make sure that they assess the resilience of their system and infrastructure against the full range of potential hazards and threats and take proportionate steps to improve resilience where required.

Referring to work in the National Flood Resilience Review on the potential for ‘black swan’ rainfall events , the SPS said this had revealed that existing rainfall records could be exceeded by 20-30%.

The Government wants Ofwat to secure assurance that water companies assess the extent to which their major water treatment works and sewage treatment plants are appropriately resilient against extreme flood events.

Government expects water to cut leakage further

On leakage, the SPS says the Government expects companies to cut leakage, flagging up the fact that customers in England and Wales used 139 litres of water per person per day in 2015-16, in contrast with 121 litres of water per person per day that customers use in Germany.

“We expect Ofwat to promote ambitious action to reduce leakage and per capita consumption, where this represents best value for money over the long term, including exploring setting targets in future.”

Greater collaboration needed to meet future water supply needs

The Government is looking to Ofwat to promote greater collaboration to enable a variety of options for meeting future water supply needs to be taken forward. However, the SPS points out that many are complex, requiring coordination across water companies, regulators and even sectors.

In many cases, the SPS says, there are cultural and other barriers to water trading across company boundaries (including cascades involving multiple companies, regional cooperation and development of new interconnections or connected water grids), and to the development of shared water resources and effluent reuse schemes.

More transparency needed on long-term wastewater plans

The Government also expects Ofwat to challenge water companies to improve planning and investment to meet the wastewater needs of current and future customers.

According to the SPS, in contrast with the public water supply, the companies are not required to plan their long-term wastewater needs transparently, commenting:

“ Partly as a result, we do not have assurance that companies are planning and investing strategically in a way that will manage pressures from climate change, population growth, changes in consumer behaviour and ageing infrastructure, with risks of pollution, flooding or spikes in future bills.”

“In some areas, the wastewater network is already underachieving. In 2015, there were 1,734 pollution incidents caused by unexpected failures and 4,344 properties which suffered sewage flooding within the home.”

In the Government’s view the lack of transparent, integrated planning means that customers are less engaged in decision-making and that opportunities to work with partners who use or have an impact on wastewater systems (such as local authorities) can be missed.

The expectation is that Ofwat will continue to challenge and incentivise the companies to develop an innovative and strategic mix of solutions, which could include promoting, adopting or maintaining sustainable drainage systems or co-investing in flood risk management, working creatively with partners “upstream” as a means of effectively draining their area and delivering multiple benefits where possible.

Ofwat should encourage use of natural capital to strengthen ecosystem resilience

The Government also wants Ofwat to challenge companies to further the resilience of ecosystems that underpin water and wastewater systems, by encouraging the sustainable use of natural capital.

This includes considering options where water and wastewater systems could be used to provide wider benefits to the economy, society and the environment without having adverse impacts on costs or services, for example by using reservoirs to help alleviate flood risks where appropriate.

On the need to accelerate housebuilding,  the Government says Ofwat should keep under review what it can do to make sure that company planning and delivery keeps pace with housebuilding and supports development across the country.  The water companies are expected to contribute by “achieving timely connections of new developments to water and wastewater systems…so that this does not hold up getting homes built.”

Water companies must “significantly reduce bad debt”

Commenting on customer bills, the SPS says it is a priority for Ofwat to challenge the water sector to go further to identify and meet the needs of customers who are struggling to afford their charges. However, the Government is also expecting the companies to take steps to “significantly reduce bad debt”, saying  that Ofwat’s regulatory framework should incentivise this.

The cost of uncollected charges has risen from £1.9 billion in 2010 to £2.2 billion in 2014.

“Bad debt – unrecovered customer debt pushes up the level of all customer bills and causes distress to those customers that fall behind on their bill payments because of affordability problems, “ the SPS says.

SMEs vulnerable in new retail market

Commenting on the new retail business sector, the SPS says experience in the energy market has shown that small business customers can be vulnerable users of utilities. The Government expects Ofwat to promote an enhanced focus by water companies on the needs of small business customers that may struggle to access the best deals.

“As the market develops and Ofwat gains insight into how competition is working, it should explore whether to give small businesses further protections, for example to protect them from mis-selling, ensure more transparent prices and to make switching supplier easier.” the SPS says.

The Government expects Ofwat to explore the full range of ways it can bring competitive pressures to bear in the water market to further the long-term resilience of water and wastewater systems and services, as well as protecting vulnerable customers.

At the same, Ofwat will also be expected to sustain long-term investor confidence in the sector, in line with its duties, including protecting the interests of current and future consumers.

The regulator will have to set out how activity across its forward work programme and business plans will achieve the Government’s strategic priorities and objectives, together with explaining clearly what information it will use to measure its success and how major decisions will support this achievement.


Budget 2017: Driverless cars on our roads by 2021

Driverless cars will be on the roads within three years as part of a multimillion-pound plan to help Britain lead a technological revolution.

The Chancellor outlined Budget plans to “turbo-charge” Britain’s tech industries – pumping investment into artificial intelligence, clean fuel technology and next generation 5G phones.


The Treasury pledged to support the transition to zero-emission vehicles by:

  • regulating to support the wider roll-out of charging infrastructure
  • investing £200m, to be matched by private investment, into a new £400m Charging Investment Infrastructure Fund
  • committing to electrify 25% of cars in central government department fleets by 2022
  • providing £100m to guarantee the continuation of the Plug-In Car Grant to 2020 to help consumers with the cost of purchasing a new battery electric vehicle.

These measures should help tackle the twin Achilles’ heels of electric cars – cost and driving range anxiety.

Mr Hammond also pledged that from April 2018, there will be no benefit in kind charge on electricity that employers provide to charge employees’ electric vehicles.

Transport experts at TRL have estimated that 300,000 electric vehicles are expected to be on the roads by 2020.

Mr Hammond told the House of Commons that the world is on the brink of enormous change and ‘for the first time in decades Britain is genuinely at the forefront of this technology revolution’, but stressed that ‘we must invest to secure that bright future’.

‘No technology symbolises the revolution gathering around us more than driverless cars,’ he added.

The Government has already promised to implement ‘world-leading regulatory changes’ so developers can apply to test their driverless vehicles on the road nationwide without a human operator.

‘A new scheme will also be launched enabling organisations to explore ways of testing self-driving technology through digital simulation. This off-road testing project will be the most significant of its kind in Europe and will involve cutting-edge computer science,’ Treasury officials said.

The Treasury also announced that the ‘National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) will also launch a new innovation prize to determine how future roadbuilding should adapt to support self-driving cars’.

The chancellor once again froze fuel duty for both petrol and diesel; however elsewhere diesel car owners were hit with expected tax rises.

The Treasury confirmed that a Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) supplement will apply to new diesel cars first registered from 1 April 2018, so that their First-Year Rate will be calculated as if they were in the VED band above. This will not apply to next-generation clean diesels – those which are certified as meeting emissions limits in real driving conditions, known as Real Driving Emissions.

There will also be a rise in the existing Company Car Tax diesel supplement from 3% to 4%, with effect from 6 April 2018. This will also apply only to diesel cars which do not meet the Real Driving Emissions Step 2 standards.

Mr Hammond said: ‘Drivers buying a new car will be able to avoid this charge as soon as manufacturers bring forward the next-generation cleaner diesels that we all want to see. And we only apply the measures to cars.’

Having been stung with reversals and criticism in previous announcements, Mr Hammond was quick to stress ‘no white van man or woman will be hit by these measures’.

On the back of this, the chancellor pledged to pay for a new £220m Clean Air Fund to provide support to local authorities as they draw up local air quality plans.

Neil Parish MP, chair of the EFRA Committee, said: ‘Diesel cars contribute significantly to the dangerous levels of pollution experienced throughout the UK, but many people bought them in good faith.

‘The Government’s announcement that it will make further attempts to tackle the use of diesel vehicles is welcome, and it must be matched by a legislative drive to encourage greener transportation including through support for low emission vehicles. It should also, where possible, not disadvantage those currently using diesels who are not in the position to change their vehicle in the short term.’

A new scheme will also be launched enabling organisations to explore ways of testing self-driving technology through digital simulation.

These measures will result in self-driving cars being on UK roads in as little as three years. A Treasury spokesman said the rollout would be subject to “stringent safety measures”.

It comes as Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Motors were last week revealed to have been testing new driverless models on the streets of Coventry.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s global ambassador, last night welcomed the move to triple the number of computer science teachers.

He said: “Advancing our students’ understanding of the principles and practices of computing is critical to developing a competitive workforce for the 21st century.

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