Integrated Water Management

Water challenges in region
of the land area is currently at risk of flooding with annual damages estimated at £1.06 billion
5710 Km
There are 5710Km of rivers and streams across geography
Surface water contributes 70% of present day risk
There were 9,500 sewage storm overflow events recorded across the geography in 2020
only 190
out of 346 water bodies in the geography area currently meet their WFD overall status objective
There are significant water supply pressures in the area, with multiple waterbodies failing flow targets during low flows (e.g. in summer).
The Environment Act sets out ambitions to define and take a more integrated approach to water planning.
To reach and surpass the Environment Act’s targets, various tests and trials will need to be undertaken. Some local leaders in the Oxford to Cambridge area are committed to working across local authority boundaries and have agreed environmental principles which support our ambition to consider water holistically. It is also known to be an area with significant existing water pressures which will be put under further pressure/exacerbated by planned (or unplanned) population growth and a changing climate - integrated water management will underpin shared ambitions for sustainable economic growth and environmental improvement.
The IWMF programme will explore how to draw together current and ongoing water, flood, natural capital, and land use planning work to create a shared understanding of issues and pressures and fully interconnected water and flood risk evidence base, and test and trial new approaches across the range of water functions. This will be used to consider water systems strategically and allow a holistic approach to decision making, solution planning for water management and wider spatial planning policy.
All learning will be fed directly into the locality and into Defra to support the delivery of the 25 Year Environment Plan (25 YEP) target of an integrated approach to managing water.
The end goal is to enable a more proactive, holistic approach to decision making and solution planning for water management infrastructure – focusing on the needs of the natural environment and ultimately avoiding reactive water management solutions that focus primarily on damage limitation.
This programme is hosted by the Environment Agency’s Oxford to Cambridge Team on behalf of the Defra Group, working closely with stakeholders across the water sector and Oxford to Cambridge geography. Embedded in strategic placemaking partnerships, this 3-year programme offers the opportunity to shape, test and trial developing mechanisms and policy approaches to help deliver a step-change in the way water, including flood risk, is managed.
Working across a multi authority area offers the opportunity to look at water management in an integrated manner across a large geographical area to test at scale solutions that require cross-boundary working. The project will work with both the Oxford to Cambridge PrP governance framework and within Defra governance structures. It is designed and managed in a way that will provide learning and approaches that are applicable more widely.
This joined-up, cross-boundary and cross-discipline collaborative approach to water will deliver a step-change in the way water and flood risk is managed.

The Problem

How do we effectively integrate planning across all four water themes?
There are 4 disciplines that we want to bring together: Water Resources; Water Quality; Flood Risk; and the Environment. Improving the water environment is a core ambition and will be central to all the decisions we make.

Water resources

Aims to maintain continuity of supply under specified drought conditions and to develop a "best value plan".


Aims to reduce sewer flooding, storm overflows and pollution risk. It aims to ensure wastewater treatment works quality and flow compliance.

Flood risk

Interventions are typically appraised via cost/benefit assessment. A strategic sequential approach is applied for flood risk/resilience of new developments.


WFD Objectives specified for each water body are based on achieving good ecological, water quality and environmental status, unless costs are "disproportionate", in which case a lower status may be accepted.

The Integrated Water Management Framework Programme

The IWMF programme below shows a phased delivery plan for the Integrated Water Management Framework with built in consultation and decision points. These key points will provide the opportunity to adapt our developing approach, based on outcomes of our project and the needs and learning of others.

Phase 1

Understanding the evidence
Exploring the challenges
Engage the industry

Phase 2

Testing ways of working
Analysing evidence
Creating guidance

Phase 3

Embedding into business as usual
Monitoring, feedback and improvement loop

Phase 1

During Phase 1 we undertook an initial review and brought together work across water, flood, natural capital, and land use planning to create an integrated water and flood risk evidence base to provide decision makers with a better understanding of water resource, quality and flood risk issues and opportunities.
This included mapping challenges, defining links across the water systems and defined how we could appraise interventions consistently.

Phase 2

The proposed approach is to progress Phase 2 as a programme of projects to reduce the complexity by delivering individual strands or testing individual elements in depth.
However, we note the importance of continuing to manage the projects as a series due to the high level of interdependencies between the project outputs, outcomes, and the crossover of stakeholders.
We plan to structure the work under two key strategic themes alongside a series of smaller projects. The key themes are policy and intervention selection.

Phase 3

During phase 3 we will be working with our stakeholders to transition the learning, tools and approaches into our business-as-usual activities.

What is Integrated Water Management?

Integrated Water Management Framework Phase 1

ntegrated Water Management Framework Phase 2 and IWMF Phase 2