Water resources - another dry winter

Kent landscape polytunnels & reservoir_14727Preparing for the impacts of a second dry winter

The Environment Agency is reporting that large areas of Eastern and South East England are experiencing a period of prolonged dry weather. This follows periods of unusually dry conditions last winter and spring.

As a result, the NFU is reminding farmers and growers of the value of preparing for the impacts of a second dry winter on the 2018 growing season, just in case.

Above average rainfall for the next few months is now needed to recharge groundwater and refill reservoirs. Currently, drier conditions mean that ‘hands-off flow’ conditions have been activated on some abstraction licences for the filling of winter storage reservoirs in parts of the east and south east. Whilst there is plenty of time for the situation to change, it is sobering to think that abstraction is being constrained at this time of year.

NFU water specialist Paul Hammett is encouraging farmers and growers in the affected regions to think about how their businesses would cope with the impact of a second dry winter.

Mr Hammett explained: “We think this is the perfect time in the farming calendar to take stock of any strategies that could be implemented on farm to combat future water shortages.

“There will normally be a combination of strategies for farmers to consider. Firstly, think about how much water is available from different sources and how the best use can be made of it. Secondly, consider discussing abstraction licences with the Environment Agency to find ways of making them as flexible to use as possible. Finally, and depending on the severity of the risk, review opportunities for additional coping strategies like trading water and renegotiating existing contracts,” he said.

The NFU is urging licence holders to contact the Environment Agency sooner rather than later if they think their abstraction licences could benefit from a ‘health check’.

In some cases, the business may have changed to the point where the licence is no longer fit for purposes, particularly during a spell of dry weather. An informal discussion with the Agency now about the potential for changing licence conditions, such as extending the licensed abstraction season for ‘winter’ licences, could pay dividends in the longer term.

With formal changes to licences taking up to four months to process, prompt action is recommended.

The NFU is recommending that members closely monitor the water resources position in their area by referring to Environment Agency water situation reports

Environment Agency water manager Stuart Sampson explained that although the relatively damp summer had helped to maintain water levels in some rivers, some groundwater aquifers and reservoirs remain low and in need of replenishment from autumn and winter rainfall.

Mr Sampson said: “Despite the wet summer, recent months have been much drier than average in the south east which means that water companies will be advising their customers to use water wisely and considering action to preserve and enhance water supplies.

“The Environment Agency is actively working with water companies, business and farmers to balance the needs of water users and our teams are ready to respond to potential impacts of dry weather on people, the environment and wildlife,” he added.

Last edited on: 04:12:2017

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