Water and wastewater management. Britons are willing to pay more for nature-based solutions

rozwiązania oparte na naturze

A recent poll of British consumers shows that an increasingly aware public is willing to bear the cost of sustainable water management. Respondents said they would be able to pay 40 pounds a year more to have water investments built using natural resources. Nature-based solutions are expected to improve water quality and reduce the risks associated with flooding.

Understand consumer priorities

The British consumer organization Customer Council for Water (CCW), which deals with water supply and management issues, commissioned 2023. Yonder Consulting to conduct an online survey examining the public’s preferences for water investments. More than 2,300 people participated in the survey conducted in late September and early October. residents of England and Wales. Respondents were presented with different types of investment scenarios and their associated financial burdens. Nature-based solutions were contrasted with so-called “nature-based” solutions. hard engineering, that is, projects based on concrete and other man-made raw materials.

The purpose of the survey was to find out what consumers’ priorities are and to what extent they would be willing to participate financially in improving water infrastructure. It was no surprise to discover that the most important aspect for citizens in evaluating an investment is its overall cost, which translates into an increase in water bills. Analysts explain this choice by the general rise in prices and concern over household welfare.

Respondents, despite this parsimonious approach, however, after carefully analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of the various solutions proposed to them, declared a willingness to compromise. As a result, nature-based solutions have unquestionably triumphed over engineered alternatives. As many as 59 percent. survey participants favored pro-environmental investments, even if their impact on bill growth would be four times higher than in the other case. However, it is not an unconditional approval for all planned projects.

Nature-based solutions for water management

For the CCW study, three scenarios were prepared for possible investments in the sphere of water management, specifically regarding sewerage systems, flood control and wastewater treatment. The model based on man-made materials was identified as the fastest to finalize (up to 1 year), but at the same time having the lowest life expectancy (5-10 years). Its implementation would entail a £20 per year increase in water bills, serious interference with aquatic ecosystems, the local landscape and significant carbon emissions. However, it would be a targeted project, focused on a specific need and guaranteeing predictable costs and results.

At the other extreme, a Nature-Based Solution (NBS, or Nature-Based Solution) was proposed, which would require a much longer implementation time (2-5 years) and an increase in water bills of £40 per year. The sustainability of the results is projected for 10-20 years in this scenario, and the impact on the landscape would be minimal. Moreover, the implementation of such projects using natural raw materials would have an impact on reducingCO2 emissionsand bring widespread environmental benefits. Due to its novel nature, both costs and results would be more difficult to predict.

An intermediate solution was presented to respondents as a third scenario. It involved a maximum two-year lead time, a lifespan of 10-20 years, and a £20 increase in bills. The project plans to use artificial materials to a moderate degree. The entire project would involveCO2 emissions with limited environmental benefits.

The vast majority of respondents were unequivocally in favor of NBS solutions, while the smallest portion (up to 10 percent) supported classic infrastructure projects.

Why do British people support nature-based solutions?

The aforementioned survey was supplemented by panel discussions with residents of England and Wales. Their goal was to deepen the topic of differences in approaches to water investment and open a dialogue with consumers. It turned out that the amount of the water bill is not their only concern.

Nature-based solutions were praised for their aesthetic qualities, among other reasons. Notions of wildlife-friendly green spaces clearly prevailed over the scenario of paved reservoirs and highCO2 emissions. Most consumers seem to be genuinely concerned about climate change and the impact of pollution on the quality of rivers and lakes. NBS solutions, meanwhile, appear to meet social water and sanitation needs without increasing environmental pressure. Opportunities for citizens to get involved in green projects and prospects for supporting endangered wildlife were also cited as assets.

The economic aspect of supporting NBS solutions

Under various scenarios of water bill increases, CCW has prepared models that include an increase of £0 to £80 per year. Support for nature-based solutions held up to the £40 ceiling. Above this price, most consumers opted not to invest. Only in wealthier households, with annual incomes of more than 41,000. pounds, the tolerance range for water bill increases was higher, reaching 60 pounds.

British water companies prepare investment plans

From the panel discussions conducted as part of the CCW survey, it emerged that consumers do not place trust in water companies. There have been opinions that the interests of shareholders are placed above those of the public. They also mentioned environmental scandals publicized by the media, as well as personal experiences with long-term infrastructure leaks and bathing water contamination.

In view of the above concerns and objections, consumers are demanding clear communication from water industry representatives. They are able to accept the risks posed by innovative nature-based solutions, but only if they learn more about these risks and know the arguments for taking them. Skeptics openly talk about greenwashing and insufficient efforts to maintain the new infrastructure after completion.

CCW’s study is important because it comes at a time when British water companies are preparing investment plans for 2025-2030. They submitted their proposals, along with suggestions for adequate water price increases, to regulator Ofwat back in October, which is now subjecting them to critical scrutiny. According to CCW, nature-based solutions have been significantly reduced in the current planning period in favor of the construction of concrete reservoirs and other engineered structures. The results of the study are therefore to be used to lobby for support for more “green” water projects. Ofwat has until December of this year to review all projects and approve the proposed scope of services and price limits for water.

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