Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Prepare now for changes in water management

January 31, 2018 by  
Filed under News & Business

This year is already shaping up to be a busy 12 months for irrigators, says Melvyn Kay.

Growers who irrigate crops know all too well that water availability varies according to rainfall. But changes in water resource management mean farmers now face an additional challenge – and one that could have an even bigger impact on their businesses.

Just how this will affect abstractors is not yet clear. But what is clear is that farmers and growers need to engage with this process of change to make sure it benefits abstractors.

The start of 2018 has been wet but the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) warns that the underlying trend across the east and south-east continues to be less than average rainfall which has persisted through the summer and autumn months.

In the south-east, groundwater levels are likely to be below normal and river flows likely to be normal or below normal over the next three months. Little can be done to improve groundwater levels but filling reservoirs is vital to safeguard against shortfalls in the coming summer months.

Changes for abstractors

New regulations now in force bring exempt abstractions, such as drip irrigation, into the licensing system. In December 2017, Defra published a plan which sets out how government will seek to reform water abstraction management over the coming years.

This plan also details how the government intends to protect the environment while improving access to water. It addresses unsustainable abstraction and ways of modernising the Environment Agency’s services to licence holders.

The main message in the plan is about changes in future water management.  A catchment-based approach is proposed (CaBA) with existing local organisations taking responsibility for water management and solving local water management problems.

This catchment approach has always been the preferred (and sensible) way of managing water resources.  In 2011, Defra introduced CaBA in 2011, essentially to improve water quality through better land management in line with the requirements of the Water Framework Directive.

Building on the success of CaBA, Defra now wants to strengthen this approach by enabling catchment groups, such as The Rivers Trust, to take on a more central role in managing catchments and developing local solutions to local water availability issues. 

How do abstractors fit in

At present, abstractors are not at the CaBA table, but they are expected to take part.  What is not clear is just how this will unfold.  Existing catchment management groups have little or no knowledge of managing abstractions, which are regulated by the Environment Agency.

Thus, some new relationship will be needed which brings all the parties together in a manner that provides abstractors with sufficient knowledge and confidence for them to engage in catchment management. 

What is clear, though, is that abstractors will need to get involved in deciding what this new working relationship will look like, to make sure that local catchment management works for them.  Sitting back and letting others sort it out will not be a good option.

For some this may seem to be yet another administrative burden for abstractors.  But others will see it as an opportunity to take more local ‘ownership’ of water resources management and to explore new ways of storing and sharing water. 

Melvyn Kay is executive secretary of the UK Irrigation Association. For details about the conference, call 01427 717627 or visit www.ukia.org.

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