New plans to transform how Greater Manchester manages water

Jul 4, 2023 | Sustainable Living

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A new plan will see the Greater Manchester Combined Authority extend partnership working with United Utilities and the 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 as the issue of climate change becomes more of a threat.

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% 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.

The vision is: By working together, we will manage Greater Manchester’s water wherever it falls, to enhance the environment, support people and forge prosperous places”.

The Integrated Water Management Plan has been developed by this partnership, working with others across the city-region and it will help to:

  • Accelerate the implementation of natural flood management interventions in key locations identified in the Integrated Water Management Plan. This will help to reduce carbon emissions, improve our resilience to climate change and will benefit nature, conditions for people and the quality of towns and cities 
  • Reduce the operation of storm overflows so we can prevent rainwater from entering and polluting the combined sewage system and improve water quality
  • 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. For example, road or cycle schemes can include solutions to address surface water runoff

Members approved the Integrated Water Management Plan at a Greater Manchester Combined Authority meeting on Friday 30 June 2023. Read it in full here: Integrated Water Management Plan (

Moving forward, the partnership will also look to with the government, regulator Ofwat and other industry representatives to provide solutions that will deliver real change. 

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.” 


Louise Beardmore, CEO of United Utilities, 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.”

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