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21st Century Drainage Programme - Protecting health, supporting communities, securing the environment now and for the future

October 2016

Few of us think about what happens after we flush the loo or pull the plug in the sink or bath, and yet the sewerage system is essential to the nation's physical and economic health. Billions of pounds have been invested in ensuring that this water is taken away, cleaned and returned to the environment to support our unique and irreplaceable ecosystems and wildlife – although there is still much to do.

Moreover, a changing climate, growth in population and other changes to our society mean that we are going to have to start thinking differently about how we ensure our sewerage network is efficient, affordable and supports the environment and the economy in the decades to come.

Everyone involved in this area of work knows that there are big challenges ahead, which is why more than 40 organisations – from government, regulators, environmental charities, the water industry, academics, local authorities, and others – have got together to start trying to find answers to some of the big questions:
  • How do we protect the environment in a rapidly changing world?
  • How much capacity do our drains actually have? How much more do we need to ensure we can cope with a changing climate?
  • How do we assess what new investment will provide the biggest benefit?
  • How can we help customers understand what can and cannot go down the loo?
  • How do we explain better what we are doing about drainage?
  • How do we make drainage simpler and more consistent for all the different people who are involved?

Bringing such a wide group of organisations and people together to deal with these complex issues is a first. The group is known as the 21st Century Drainage Programme, a name which reflects the long term nature of what we are trying to achieve.

The Programme is building a scientifically robust programme of research to help answer these questions. But it is just as important to explain what we are trying to do, and the vital role that a good sewerage system plays in health, the economy and the environment. Without adequate drainage, communities and businesses cannot grow, and we cannot properly support our environment. Hence our document, which aims to set out the successes and challenges of the past and the scale of ambition for the future. You can access the document here.

We want to make this conversation as open and transparent as possible, and look forward to hearing from anyone who wants to contribute to the debate, at, or on Twitter, using our hashtag #21CDrainage

Sarah Mukherjee, Director of Environment, Water UK