Greater Manchester, United Utilities extend water plan

A new plan will see the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) extend its partnership working with United Utilities and the UK’s Environment Agency to “transform the way water is managed across the city-region” so it is better prepared for the changing climate.

“The scale of the challenge of managing too much water in times of flooding, too little water during droughts and cases of poorer quality water due to pollution, are all continuing to grow,” said the GMCA.

“During periods of extremely dry weather (as experienced in 2021 and 2022), water supplies in Greater Manchester come under increasing pressure.

“In storms, and with the city-region sitting in a natural bowl, heavy rainfall can see water levels rise rapidly, causing flood risk.

“Precipitation is predicted to rise by 59 per cent by 2050 even if carbon reduction targets are met, with the North West projected to have the highest percentage increase in rainfall in the country.

“As rainwater enters the sewer network this can cause water pollution.

“To combat this, in September 2021 a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the Environment Agency, and United Utilities, creating the first partnership looking to manage water differently across the city region.”

An Integrated Water Management Plan has been developed by the partnership, working with others across the city-region to:

  • Accelerate the implementation of natural flood management interventions in key locations
  • Reduce the operation of storm overflows to prevent rainwater from entering and polluting the combined sewage system
  • Creating new jobs, developing skills and apprenticeship roles that benefit residents in Greater Manchester
  • Ensure new GMCA or TfGM developments are delivered in partnership with United Utilities so water management measures can be factored in.

Councillor Tom Ross, Greater Manchester Lead for Green City-region, said: “Our climate is changing in front of our faces, and we cannot afford to ignore it and continue to see the consequences worsen in terms of flooding, pollution and drought.

“Local authorities in particular face an uphill struggle when it comes to managing drainage under these quickly changing conditions. We must adapt and make our city-region more resilient to longer periods of rainfall or dry weather – but we cannot do that alone.

“The Combined Authority has worked in partnership with United Utilities over many years including pilot projects that find new ways to harness nature to improve our cities and rivers.

“We know that short-term solutions, tinkering at the edges or crossing our fingers and hoping for someone else to solve the problem, or waiting for it to go away, won’t solve the fundamental challenge of managing water differently.

“It’s important we also see the opportunities presented to us and develop the skills needed to create good jobs in what will be a huge transformational project.

“I’m delighted to be joining a partnership with United Utilities and the Environment Agency so we can put Greater Manchester on a path to better manage its water and rainfall in times of serious change, which will work alongside the progress we’re making to reduce carbon emissions and make our city region a greener place for all.”

United Utilities CEO Louise Beardmore said: “We’re seeing the impact of changing weather patterns across the region with an increase in storms and surface water flooding, so it’s critical that we come together to manage these challenges.

“It’s great to see the leadership being shown by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to drive forward action through this partnership.

“Traditional engineered solutions are no longer the only option and we’re looking forward to working together to deliver projects to support more sustainable urban development and the cleaner rivers we all want to see.”

Ian Crewe, Area Director for the Environment Agency in Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire, said: “Our changing climate is causing warmer wetter winters and hotter drier summers meaning it is more important than ever to protect our water supplies and ensure we are resilient to risks such as flooding.

“But this cannot be done in isolation – which is why this partnership with Greater Manchester Combined Authority and United Utilities is critical and a huge step forward in ensuring we create a great natural environment and respond to pressures that come with developments.

“Together we have a real opportunity to take an integrated approach to the challenges of water management and we look forward to the benefits this will bring.”