The proposed new guidelines are designed to help public water companies draw up their next water resources management plans, due to be published in 2019. Water companies have a legal duty to supply water to people and businesses, and to prepare and maintain a water resources management plan (WRMP).
The WRMP must set out how a water company intends to maintain the balance between supply and demand for water over a 25-year period (or longer if the company chooses).
Paul Hammett, NFU water resources specialist, said that the guidance, although a technical document for water companies, will still be of interest to farmers and growers in the future monitoring of water use and need.
"Our interest in WRMP is relatively new but growing as a result of government’s current strategic focus on water resource resilience," he said.
"In particular, there is increasing focus on a multi-sector (including agriculture and horticulture) approach to improving water resilience, and this is an area the NFU is determined to engage in fully.
"We believe that the guidance changes proposed by the Environment Agency should offer a more simple, concise and understandable framework leading to an improvement to the next generation of WRMPs."
One new feature of the draft guidance is its suggestion that water companies investigate their resilience to a ‘drought that is worse than has been experienced in the past 100 years’.
Paul agreed that reliance on historical records is a logical starting point for drought planning.
"However, when planning for future extreme weather episodes, past events tell us only part of the story," he said.
"Recent flooding in Cumbria (December 2015) is the latest event that seems to have exceeded our previous understanding of relative historic risk.
"With the increasing availability of more sophisticated methods of monitoring and measuring together with increasingly potent computer modelling, we hope that water companies will be at least better equipped to try to meet this challenge in future."