Many individuals and businesses take untreated water from rivers and groundwater, known as water abstraction, because it is a cheap and convenient source. However, there are growing pressures on our water resources so action must be taken now to reform the system and ensure it is able to meet the challenges of the future.
The introduction of a more efficient and resilient water abstraction system will protect our 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.
In the meantime Defra is also working with Ofwat and the Environment agency to tackle unsustainable abstraction.
One example of this is the success of the Restoring Sustainable Abstraction programme, by Defra and the Environment Agency, in the River Itchen in Hampshire.
The changes introduced ensured that licensed abstraction will not reduce flows in the river to an extent which can cause harm to the wildlife for which the Itchen is so important.