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Water Abstraction – ‘Use it or lose it’

The Environment Agency now seems to be following up on Defra’s response, earlier in the year, to the consultation on reforming the Water Abstraction Management System.  The EA is beginning to tackle unused licences as part of a longer term reform of Abstraction Licences as outlined in the consultation.  They have written to hundreds of holders of licences that have been unused in the last 10 years and asked to confirm if they still need the licence and to produce suitable evidence showing why they wish to retain it.

The response to the consultation gives the intention that by the early 2020s replacement abstraction permits will be issued with permitted volumes that are based on abstractor’s usage over the previous 10 years:  

‘The historical assessment period we use for calculating recent actual abstraction will also have an impact on the permitted volume that abstractors receive in the new system. We want to ensure that the final choice meets the following criteria:

• Matches with robust records of abstraction held by the Environment Agency.
• Is long enough to capture normal variations, for example crop rotations.
• Includes significant dry periods.

Unused volumes will be removed, although subject to appeal...and with no compensation payable.

Furthermore, permits will not be time limited, however, will have flow based controls to protect the environment that will restrict abstraction.  Exemptions from the need for Abstraction Licences are also to be reformed and be brought under the licensing system.

In essence it appears that abstraction volumes will be reduced and the Environment Agency will have much greater flexibility and control to prevent abstraction when they feel that abstraction poses a risk to the environment.  A glimmer of light, however, was given in the consultation response where it was stated that:

“At any time when flows are high, abstractors will be allowed to take water to store it. There will be no seasonal permits. The new permits will allow abstractors to take water at any time when flows are high meaning they can store it for when flows are low and make better use of reservoirs.

”This appears to be a sensible approach, however, requires that you either have a reservoir to hand or to invest considerable capital in water storage facilities, an investment that will be very hard to justify with today’s commodity prices. Richard Corbet is an associate partner with Balfours.

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