Saturday, March 23, 2019

Agency takes ‘important first step’ to mitigate lack of rain

March 5, 2019 by  
Filed under Crops

An Environment Agency decision to extend the winter abstraction season for refilling winter storage reservoirs has been described as an important first step in helping farmers who are again suffering from lack of rain.

The agency has announced that refilling can continue into April and potentially beyond. The NFU said the move was 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 the region suffers another dry spring and summer.

Below normal

NFU water specialist Paul Hammett said: “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.”

Mr Hammett said it was important to 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.”

The agency is also willing to consider requests to both fast-track water rights trades  and proposals to borrow groundwater from future allocations. It is also planning to re-publish its regulatory position statement on the re-use of treated water for irrigation.

Mr Hammett said the NFU was strongly recommending that members who think they may need help with licence flexibility during the year contact the Environment Agency without delay to discuss their proposals.

Current needs

He added: “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.”

The National Drought Group, which brings together government departments, water companies, environmental groups and users, met on 21 January to assess the water resource situation and action being taken to reduce risk for summer 2019.

Wet weather in November and December 2018 brought a welcome end to six consecutive months of below average rainfall in England, it said. Winter refill started slightly later than usual but the rain brought relief for many parts of England, with the exception of eastern England.

Latest prospects

Despite this improvement, however, the situation is not yet back to normal. January was dry, with just 4% of the expected long-term average rainfall in the first 15 days of the month. This resulted in most rivers flows being very low for the time of year.

Several reservoirs remain below normal in central England. Similarly, groundwater in aquifers stretching from Oxford to Cambridge have also not recovered.

“If the coming months are dry, water available for spray irrigation by farmers may be limited during the summer,” said the agency. The Met Office three-month outlook shows a slightly higher chance of drier weather than wet during the first quarter of the year.

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