United Utilities publishes road map to better river health

Better rivers will help bring about a better North West. That’s the message from the region’s water company which has published a series of commitments to kick start a river revival over the next three years.

The four-point plan sets out that United Utilities will:

  • make sure the company’s operations progressively reduce impact to river health
  • be open and transparent about its performance and plans
  • make rivers beautiful, supporting others to improve and care for them and
  • create more opportunities for everyone to enjoy rivers and waterways

Most of these pledges will be delivered over the next three years, including investment in wastewater systems, enhanced data monitoring and sharing, greater innovation and more use of nature-based solutions.

For example, at Southwaite in Cumbria a new wetland area is being created which will be able to treat any excess storm water that has to bypass the wastewater treatment works during heavy rainfall. As well as improving the local watercourse, a tributary of the River Eden, the wetland will improve wildlife habitat and create a more beautiful environment for local people.

United Utilities has committed to reduce the number of spills from storm overflows by at least a third, between 2020 and 2025. This will be supported through a £230m investment programme at sites across the region, leading to 184km of improved waterways. The company will also make sure that all storm overflows are monitored by 2023 and real time data on their operation is made available to the general public.

Jo Harrison, Environment, Planning and Innovation Director at United Utilities, said: “As more people have come to appreciate the environment since the pandemic, there’s a real drive to improve our rivers and waterways. People want to swim, to enjoy riverside walks and get back to nature, and we have an important role to play by upgrading the sewerage infrastructure in the region.

“It’s a long term ambition, but we believe we can make some major improvements over the course of this decade, building upon the latest data that shows sewer spills have reduced by 28% between 2020 and 2021.

“But that’s only part of the solution; we can’t do this on our own. River health is affected by many factors so we’ve published this route map to show how we will get our own house in order and help others to get involved and work collaboratively. Ultimately, better rivers are better for everyone across the North West.”

Members of the public will be able to get involved with the plans that are promised. United Utilities will support local groups and authorities with new applications for inland bathing waters, and will also create further recreational clubs at its reservoirs. A community fund will be launched to support local river health initiatives and, working alongside The Rivers Trust, there will be the opportunity for people to volunteer as citizen scientists to collect data on river health which will help inform further improvement work.

Mark Lloyd, CEO of The Rivers Trust, said: “We welcome United Utilities’ focus on driving long term improvements in river health, creating new recreational opportunities and reducing the operation of combined storm overflows.

“United Utilities has been leading the industry with its approach to working in river catchments over the last 20 years and through our strategic partnership we hope to strengthen this significantly over the coming years, to ensure that real improvements in the North West’s rivers are delivered for everyone to enjoy.

“Our joint initiative with the help of citizen scientists to collate better data, provide transparency to the public and monitor progress is vital to success.”

United Utilities is also championing legislation to ban wet wipes that contain plastic and lobbying for a ban on all wet wipes that are not ‘Fine to Flush’.  Wet wipes are the scourge of sewer systems because they persist and build up to form blockages which reduce sewer capacity and increase the risk of spills into watercourses.



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