The Environment Agency has announced that it will extend the winter abstraction season for refilling winter storage reservoirs into April and potentially beyond.
This represents a key and timely revision to the Agency’s position on the flexing of abstraction licences which it developed during the height of last year’s drought. In its latest briefing the Agency sets out how it will approach the start of the 2019 irrigation season and describes some of the licensing options that could be offered to abstractors if we have another dry spring and summer.
NFU water specialist Paul Hammett welcomed the updated position:
"Following a relatively dry January there has been only modest recharge of aquifers in the south and east. Three-quarters of English rivers are recording ‘below-normal’ flows for the time of year.
"In these conditions it’s going to be really important to keep this position statement under close review so that we can respond to changing circumstances. Extending the ‘winter’ period for reservoirs, initially into April, so that farmers can abstract water when river flows are sufficiently high is an important first step."
Subject to there being no adverse effects on the environment or the rights of existing water users, the Agency is also willing to consider requests to both fast-track water rights trades and proposals to 'borrow' groundwater from future allocations.
The Agency is also planning to re-publish its regulatory position statement on the re-use of treated water for irrigation.
Advice for members
The NFU is strongly recommending that members who think that they may need help with licence flexibility during the year to contact the Environment Agency without delay to discuss their proposals.
We recommend that all members check their licence details before the irrigation season starts to remind them of current conditions and consider whether changes should be requested to ensure that their licences are fit to meet current needs.
Don’t forget that licence holders can now view their abstraction licence details online at the abstraction licence service.