PROWATER panel discussion on protecting and restoring water resources

PROWATER panel discussion on protecting and restoring water resources


Well now, I think it’s an interesting question because…. Liz, who is here
from Coca-Cola, earlier on when she heard some of the talks, just was saying: ‘Well
listen, we’ve been doing this for 15 years now: these sorts of trials, these
plots, these activities,…Why aren’t they common place, why aren’t we just doing them?’. And so the question of that readiness, we know what we need to do to sort of
create resilient catchments. We know some of the land-based measures we need to
deliver. Why aren’t we doing it? And I think, really, being on things like the
flood committees and seeing how things like the funding formula for our public
vehicles work, there’s still a big gulf between how as a society, what our wishes
are and how we do things like catchment management, compared to the actual
processes we have for distributing funding.They’re still very much siloed.
They’re still very much wanting the same sort of level of accuracy as our
engineered solutions. Whether that be treatment works or whether that be flood defense features. And I think that’s where our problems lie: in just creating, rolling this out and saying: ‘Right!’ Let’s do this with the 13 billion that the guy was talking around’. We’re still a long way
off of that and the only thing I can think of is that it needs genuine strong
leadership. Politically, nationally and over a long period of time, because it
doesn’t change overnight. If you think too far out of the box in politics, you
just seem to be pushed out of the box. So, that’s my thought over the day. Well… I was to say similar things,
but slightly different. In fact, those ideas are already 20 years old. The ideas
that we have been discussing, are a lot of trial-and-errors and
projects, but it’s not generally spread. So, one has to reckon that the social
system is resilient as well. It’s very slow in adapting things and
I think the 20-year period is normal. So, it’s my experience…So, 25 years or 30
years ago the environmental movement used to defend ideas in my council and
all the other partners thought they were ridiculous ideas. Now, where we are
implementing them. So, I reckon, that in a normal time, you need 20 years. Only now, we are not in normal times. So, we’ll have to invent the things to speed up the evolution, I think. These speakers this mornings comment about… When they’ve got the finance director asking you questions. – You know, you’re actually here: Kate? Yeah, I mean…I think from, you know, from a business perspective as a water company… (sorry) From a business perspective, as a
water company, I think we are still required to provide that evidence base
and I think it’s finding that balance between the hard evidence Lawrence and I
were talking in the coffee break about. The business cases we need to build
versus your gut feeling that it is ‘just the right thing to do’ and how we strike
that balance and have confidence maybe in testing some of these approaches and
being a bit more innovative. And… Kind of willing just to give it a go. Several people have talked today about resilience. And I think, business
resilience, and using that as a hook for engaging other partners and other buyers
of ecosystems in the catchment is really key. I think that will kind of build in
that long-term view. Particularly, you know, around water. As water companies we’re thinking about our business resilience in very long term and
trends. But our other buyers of ecosystem services, thinking about that. Farmers as businesses, but other businesses as well within the catchment. So, how can we
look at those other beneficiaries and, you know, hook in there finance as well? Anything to add, Jan (Staes)? Very little. I must say I was pretty amazed that… I’ve
learned a lot today. Especially on these… reverse auctions and these things. And I
think, well, we can learn from things that have been… What you’ve been experimenting with. I think I’ve learned from that. So, I want to thank everybody for that. – That’s great. Well, I must admit I haven’t studied the
economic regulator very well. It’s embodied within – that’s already
one problem – it’s embodied within the main water administration. It’s a separate
entity, but still it’s in that administration. So, it’s not independent. So, that’s one
one thing. Secondly: it concentrates on economic operations at a one year horizon. So the operations are the sound of the water firms etc etc. Are the sounds from a booking keeping point of view. There is not enough general policy in it, not enough long term thinking, not enough independency. So, there are things that need to be changed. And they will be changed, I think, during the coming years. Because everybody feels that something is wrong with the system. I think, just to pick up
on some of those remarks that Jan has made, around the periods that we look at in terms
of our financing, over five years for water companies. Is that long enough? I
think we obviously have an economic regulator and environmental regulator.
And the drivers there don’t always align. So we’re kind of being pushed and pulled
in different directions. So, I think that there probably is more work to do
and I think water companies, I think, are really keen to work with others, such as
environmental NGOs, to kind of push some of those agendas and for you to help us
influence our regulators. So, there would be a play out there. I think, for us to be
working together, to look at what are the right approaches and how do we start to
to sort of break down some of those potential barriers? – Yeah, I’d just
add to that. I think, what’s interesting in the latest planning period for water
companies, is we’re starting to see a split of the quest for financial… Clear financial evidence and information that what we do has an impact, a business impact. And so, it’s a purely economic, cost-benefit assessment
compared to more, sort of broader catchment stewardship of understanding
that there is a responsibility within the water company to do that. Now, I think
both of those vehicles are valid. The difficulty is, is just how strongly can
you build that economic case and what economic case does offer in that
situation? And I think that the hard thing is, it is very complex. This is
not rocket science, it’s catchment science. And that’s much harder. And I think
that’s where we have the problem. Right, so quote of the day. The farmers cluster approach is something that we’re… We see it as a key delivery mechanism and I think probably lots of other water companies do as well. And certainly that
kind of farmer-led approach. So that it’s a win-win outcome. You’re developing
measures with the farmers that work for them and deliver outcomes for us. So I
think those farmer clusters which bring farmers together and do that peer-to-peer learning, peer-to-peer influence as well. I think a really
key. And I know, you know, we’re certainly helping to fund and facilitate
those clusters where the Defra funding isn’t being applied. So absolutely, I
think they’re really key. Just to pick up. I think that
whatever happens with brexit, there’s sort of the dialogue of ‘how do we
support farming and agriculture?’ is a huge opportunity. I think, when I look at
the change that’s happened over the last 15 years, 20 years of understanding that
we ought to be looking at our catchments, we ought to be looking at land
management, we ought to be asking for more. Even the comments of
public money for public goods is a really strong discussion. What’s
interesting is the amount of social engineering that’s happened through
Common Agricultural Policy and those payments. In the southwest, we
have a lot of farmers that only, really survive on their basic payment, and
that’s the basic payment we always moan about where the payments for doing
nothing, effectively. And so, there are businesses that if we use that payment
and say: ‘Actually, you’ve got to do a huge amount with that’, that will have a big
impact. There are other farms across in other parts of the country that aren’t
like those farms. That are very large arable farms that are getting huge
payments as well. And so, I think that the the job of trying to understand that
complexity is huge. So things like the understanding how that changes,
understanding the roles of NELMS, the new sort of environmental management, is huge. And behind all of that is also
the government is going to have to actually get the money out of the door. And so, for anyone who’s worked with, or is involved with the RPA… that is in
itself a huge hurdle as well. So, while we we talk about these schemes, and we talk
about N-trade, and we talk about all the different activities. The challenge of
actually getting money out the door through a government process
hasn’t been bathed in glory over the years. So, it’s a significant
challenge and one of the ones where: are we ready to do that as Rivers Trusts? I think we all have mechanisms which we’ve child, and I think there’s real potential.
But, trying to do that in where we’re distributing 13 billion pounds. I think
that’s still quite a challenge. Jan and Jan, have you anything to add? Well. I hear things that are familiar. So, to distribute money in a way that you get… To distribute money in a way that you get quality. To monitor the results. To bring the farmers to activities that… …are viable for them. And that leaves them in their dignity. Because that’s often the discussion. It’s all topics that is very
relevant also in Flanders. Question over there. Well, indeed it’s true, but it’s
a dilemma. Because it’s the same thing with climate change in general or with all
big societal problems. The message is unpleasant, and many
politicians… I once heard a German sociologist and he said, rather cynically,
‘politics is management of illusions’. And in a way it’s true. In a way. The truth’s come out. But in way it’s true. In a way, people like to live in the illusion that society is well-organized. That their activity is part of that well-organized society. So, their activity has meaning. And that in the end, all will end well. From the moment that illusion… Because, that’s not, by definition, untrue. But it is an illusion to think of it, by definition, to be true. So, from the moment someone starts to
relativize this illusion, then it becomes unpleasant. And there are not
many politicians that have the courage to come out it with unpleasant messages. It makes movies think about one defining moment in your history: the dichotomy between Chaplin and Churchill. Chaplin came back and said: ‘I have peace for our time!’ And a year later, Churchill said: ‘Oh no this war, I bring nothing but blood, sweat and tears. So, one came with an illusion, the other one came with reality. Now… It’s also a question of timing. So, it’s a very difficult and tricky thing for politicians to be couragious in these circumstances. But at a certain moment, you have to be, so… Just to sail on that, really… Just, at some point in an optimistic future, we may have to make a decision between water for people to drink and water for the environment. You know, I don’t have any vision of what way that decision will go. Nowadays in Flanders, it is
gradually becoming a public discussion in which we are categorizing ways of
usage of water, inclusively nature function. And how to deal with it when
there is tension. And so, it’s gradually is becoming part of the discussion and
that’s one way of dealing with it. To bring unpleasant subjects
gradually into the public attention. And remaining calm. At least water shortages are very visible in the public. I mean… Yeah, it doesn’t work anyway, so… That’s an illusion If people are confronted with rivers running dry… If they If they cannot go kayaking on the streams. If they cannot go fishing. They see the fish lying dead. I think, it will at least start up a conversation much more quickly than it is with climate change. No, I think you’re exactly right Nick. I mean, if I look at what’s changed since I’ve
been at the Trust. More and more people are now talking about catchment
management and these sort of activities. When we have emergencies, when we have
situations… So it used to be, when there was a drought, they talked about building
more reservoirs.When there was a flood, they talked about building more walls.
When there was water quality issues, they talked about building more
treatment works. Now, there is a subtle change in the conversation that I’ve
seen over those years. The trouble is, we, I think, we are at war now. We’re not at
war with other countries or with with bricks and those such things. We’re
at war with time. What’s happening now is, we’re seeing these incidents happening
more regularly. So, you only have to look at the temperature changes to see how
that’s changing. You only have to look at… The instance, where I was talking only
wrong with colleagues about the impacts of the the freeze last year – The Beast
from the East – that has significant impacts. The trouble is, we’ve got
this British mentality of ‘Stay calm and carry on’. And the trouble is, it puts us
back in the box as soon as we have those pressures. We’re going to see those
problems of drought, of flooding, of water quality coming more and more regularly.
And the question is: Yes, we’ve got the systems to think about it, but have we
got the balls to do something about it quickly enough? And that’s gonna be where
I’m not sure. And that’s where as I said: We need that leadership and we need it
quickly. The trouble is we know that it takes…In the past, it’s taken 20 years.
But times of national emergency, that Churchill, happened very quickly,
because people went: ‘Oh okay, we do need to do something about it’. The question is: How quickly will we change? – Kate? Can you comment briefly what your customers… How engaged your customers are in the issue. Are they interested? Do they know about it? And after that I’m going to take one final question and then we’re going to round up. I think it’s interesting when you look at the demographic of customers. And
different age groups and different demographics have very different drivers
and interests. Our customers are interested. They’re interested in protecting the environment. But I still don’t think people really value water enough. I think it was raised earlier about how you know what people pay for
the water coming out at the tap versus what they’ll pay for a bottle of water
out of a fridge in the shop. You know… We’re not allowed to let people turn a
tap on and nothing comes out, but I think that would really wake people up, you
know. People to do that and there was no water there. Suddenly, they would start to
wonder where their water came from and why there wasn’t enough going around. But
I think, yeah, we’ve got that kind of political cushion, keeping people away
from that. But, it’s… One of our drivers is to make sure is to do more and more
engagement with our customers and particularly around their willingness to
pay. So, you know, in terms of their bills. What their money is spent on. But they
are keen to pay for the environment, to protect the environment and to pay for
more sustainable options like catchment management. Which is really positive. I think…I’m the mother of a 12 year-old boy who took part in the climate change walk-out from school. We live in Brighton. So, there was a big, you know… There was a lot of kids in Brighton who
did that, as you would expect. But I think that was really powerful. And following
that on Twitter and seeing how many kids were kind of standing up and saying
exactly that thing about: You’re not doing enough now. I think they are kind
of kicking us up the butt to say: You can’t keep talking about this. You need
to take action. This is impacting on us. And I think they’re a really untapped
group that we’re not listening to enough. So, I think it’s a really good point. – I think that’s a really powerful place to finish: Next generation. Before we do, do give a hand to our speakers!

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