Sustainable catchment management to improve water quality

Understanding how to manage water resources sustainably and build resilience against the effects of climate change is vital to the health of people and the planet. We are working with Northern Ireland (NI) Water to deliver high-quality raw water from source, reducing the need for intense treatment processes and delivering clean, safe drinking water to c.840,000 households across Northern Ireland.

Building a water resilient future

As identified within the UK Water Industry Research Framework, diffuse water pollution and insensitive land management may pollute surface and ground water supplies with substances such as nutrients, pesticides and microbial pathogens and increase colour, turbidity and suspended solids in abstracted water.

These pollutants increase the cost and intensity of water treatment required as well as the the quantity of effluent and waste produced. 

Helping to reduce the carbon footprint of the industry, we're proud to be supporting NI Water to deliver safe, and reliable water resources through pragmatic, sustainable solutions. 

Catchment management represents an alternative to conventional, capital-intensive treatment solutions by focussing on working with landowners and other stakeholders to tackle problems at source, rather than just treating the symptoms. Improving water quality at source:

  • Reduces the volume of chemicals used, and disposed of post-treatment
  • Reduces energy usage and the carbon footprint of the treatment process
  • Lowers the cost of water treatment
Annalong River, Northern Ireland

Key details

Project name

NI Water Drinking Water Catchment Plans



Northern Ireland (NI) Water


Northern Ireland


Services provided:

- Water catchment management plan

- Nature-based solutions


As the sole provider of water and sewage services and the second largest landowner in Northern Ireland, NI Water has a duty to ensure that the drinking water they provide is high-quality, and that their land and operations are managed sustainably. 

Failing to meet the Drinking Water Quality Standards could result in penalties. But the duty extends past regulation. Climate change projections mean water resilience is a major priority. Published in 2018 (UKCP18), projections state that by 2070 Northern Ireland’s winters could be 25% wetter and summers 38% drier. Water quality, supply and security in the face of a changing climate are at the top of NI Water's agenda.

Northern Ireland is exceptionally geologically diverse, which results in equally diverse soils and associated land uses. NI Water currently have 23 drinking water catchments across the country, including both surface and groundwater sources. By understanding the complex hydrogeology, land practices and resulting water quality of each catchment, we are advising NI Water on interventions to protect and maximise their natural resources and provide high-quality raw water from source.



In line with the UK Water Industry Research Framework, we are developing catchment plans to characterise each of the drinking water catchments. By creating catchment risk assessments we can identify water quality pressures within a catchment to identify appropriate sustainable solutions to: improve water quality at source, improve water quality along its pathway; and reduce the chemical use within the water treatment works.

The solutions identified are all in consideration with each catchment's environment and not only seek to improve water quality, but help NI Water meet its environmental obligations, such as those in line with the Water Framework Directive and Habitats Directive.

Helping to restore catchments to their natural conditions, Nature-based Solutions (NbS) work to mitigate against and create resilience to the effects of climate change. Measures include peatland restoration, native woodland planting, vegetative buffer strips, removal of non-native invasive species, and agricultural and grazing management. 


Water advisory services

Learn more about how RPS helps to tackle water scarcity and climate change-related impacts.


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