The way water is taken from rivers and groundwater is set to be modernised following the launch of a new consultation on reforms to its licence system, Environment Minister Dan Rogerson announced today (17th December 2013).
There are growing pressures on water resources so action must be taken now to reform the system and ensure it is able to meet the challenges of the future, said Defra, adding that the introduction of a more efficient and resilient water abstraction system will protect the environment in the long term.
The proposals in the consultation include: linking the amount of abstraction allowed more closely with how much water is available; and making trading water much quicker and easier, giving licence holders a greater incentive to use their water responsibly. Licence holders include farmers and industry.
Environment Minister Dan Rogerson said:
“The old abstraction system is no longer flexible enough to deal with the challenges of climate change and a growing population.
“That is why it is crucial we introduce these new reforms to safeguard our environment in the future and allow the economy to grow.
“This is really important to get right so I want to encourage everyone who has an interest, including farmers, businesses, and water companies, to tell us their views.
“The process, known as water abstraction, is currently controlled by a system of licences set up in the 1960s. At the time water supplies were not considered to be as limited as they are now.
“For that reason, the current system is not flexible enough to deal with the future challenges of climate change and population growth whilst still protecting the environment and allowing for economic growth. In addition, the current system does not incentivise licence holders to manage their water efficiently or make it easy for them to trade it.
“An Abstraction Reform Advisory Group, made up of major trade associations and environmental groups, has been brought together to help develop the proposals.
“The consultation will open on 17 December 2013 and close on 28 March 2014. Everyone with an interest is encouraged to visit GOV.UK to take part in the consultation.”
Water reforms need to deliver fairness for farmers, says NFU
Reform of the 50-year-old abstraction licensing regime must ensure a fair share of water for farming, says NFU East Anglia.
It says that the consultation launched today is an opportunity to deliver a new system that makes the link between food security and water security.
And it is urging farmers to get involved in the consultation by attending one of six meetings taking place across the region in the New Year.
Newmarket-based NFU National Water Specialist Paul Hammett said: “Farmers use less than 1% of total abstracted water nationally but they hold two thirds of abstraction licences so any changes to the regulatory system could have a major impact on agriculture and horticulture.
“Fruit and vegetable production is hugely important in East Anglia. It depends on irrigation but access to water is vulnerable because farming has to compete with local homes and businesses and a highly-protected environment.
“We will study Defra’s proposals carefully but we see this as an opportunity to shape a fairer system of managing and allocating water – one that treats all users equitably.”
The NFU has organised a meeting in each of the region’s key catchments to explain the implications of Defra’s proposals and obtain members’ views. The first meeting takes place at Farnham, Suffolk on Thursday 23 January and it will be chaired by NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond.
Mr Raymond said: “Climate change and population growth are making national food security an increasingly important issue for Government. Meanwhile more and more consumers are actively seeking high quality British food.
“If farmers are to succeed in growing this food they need a secure supply of water. Yet during periods of scarcity, water for domestic use, industry and the environment generally takes precedence.
“We need to redress that balance and find a better system that allocates a fair share of water to farmers to grow our food.”
The full meeting programme is:
Thursday 23 January Farnham with Stratford St Andrew Village Hall, Farnham, Suffolk
Tuesday 28 January Bedford Hall, Thorney, Peterborough
Wednesday 29 January Nightingale Centre, Framingham Earl, Norwich
Friday 31 January Essex YFC, Chathams Green, Chelmsford
Thursday 6 February Great Massingham village hall, King’s Lynn, Norfolk
Friday 7 February NFU Regional Office, Newmarket
The meetings start at 10am and NFU members can book their place by calling the regional office on 01638 672100 or by emailing [email protected]