Wildlife groups seek water curbs

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The Independent Online
Britain's leading wildlife groups will urge the Government to make the privatised water companies more accountable for the environment in a report now being finalised.

A six-point plan for better controls over the companies will be recommended by a consortium that includes the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Trusts and Friends of the Earth.

The call comes soon after the Environment Agency requested greater powers to police the water companies, and follows concern that the Government should have a national strategy for water rather than relying on the water companies themselves.

The consortium want the Government to instruct Ofwat, the water regulatory body, to set new standards of performance by 1998 to make the water companies more accountable to the environment and to customers.

They also want the Environment Agency to have the power to implement a national water strategy by the year 2000, including a target for the water companies of reducing the amount they take from the environment. A further recommendation is a wide-ranging review of water abstraction licences to identify all damage, to be completed by 1999.

"The consortium intend to ask the Government to act on these water- related problems and stop the large amount of buck-passing that is going on," Phil Rothwell, RSPB head of policy, said.

"The move by the Environment Agency for new powers is welcome, but the failure of anyone to take responsibility for water planning outside the water companies is at the root of the problems. There is a distinct lack of any overview on contingency planning and demand. No one seems willing to carry the can.

"With more housing, increased demand for water, and the south of the country getting much drier, we are at the point where the Government has to decide what it wants to do about water resource management, and leaving it to market forces doesn't seem to be the most sensible way forward."