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Challenges around future water availability in East Anglia and the East Midlands came under the spotlight at an NFU conference. NFU event highlights water challenges

• Increase in demand for water

• Reservoirs to secure supplies

• Changes to abstraction rules

Challenges around future water availability in East Anglia and the East Midlands came under the spotlight at an NFU conference.

Held at Park Farm, Thorney, in Cambridgeshire, the conference highlighted the seriousness of the situation and the importance of working together to build resilience and secure water for food.

Speakers included Water Resources East managing director Daniel Johns, consultant Lindsay Hargreaves, Norfolk farmer Will Jolly, and Andy Turner and Tom Schnetler from the Environment Agency.

The scale of the challenge is being exacerbated by climate change. By 2050, the region will need a further 444mlitres of water daily with agriculture alone requiring 64% of that volume, said Mr Johns.

Water Resources East aims to create a regional plan for East Anglia which aims to help secure adequate supplies across different sectors. A public consultant on the organisation’s draft plan closed last month.

Industry experts

Conference discussion sessions were chaired by industry experts including Jerry Knox, of Cranfield University; and Steve Moncaster, technical director for the Broadland Agricultural Water Abstractors Group.

NFU National Water Resources Specialist Kelly Hewson-Fisher organised the event with regional colleagues. She said: “The aim of the conference was to bring members up to date on the challenges that lay ahead on water availability.

“We’re aware the impacts that climate change could bring and we hear the phrases of warmer and drier summers and wetter winters but what does that mean in terms of water availability and what are the impacts on individual businesses?”

New reservoirs

Challenges also lie with regulation. Ms Hewson-Fisher said it was important for licence holders to look at opportunities to build resilience and review their abstraction licences to ensure any agreements still meet farm business requirements.

Water Resources East is developing a landscape-scale water management strategy with Anglian Water, the Environment Agency and other key stakeholders across the Fens.

Sitting at the heart of this overall strategy are two new proposed reservoir systems – one in the south of Lincolnshire near Sleaford, and the other near Chatteris, Cambridgeshire.

The reservoirs are linked into the network of internal drainage board assets and main rivers, using high and excess flows as potential sources of water for the reservoirs.

Combined with potential new barrages on the large rivers systems, this overall vision has the potential to drive enormous economic, environmental and social benefits which will be felt across the region.

This will support the delivery of the specific Fens measure in the Environment Agency’s new National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy. It will be a key element of the proposed UNESCO Fens Biosphere designation.

Partnership

The existing multi-sector South Lincolnshire Water Partnership is being joined by a new Fens Water Partnership, ensuring that the design of both reservoirs delivers the maximum possible benefit for people and the environment.

The Lincolnshire Reservoir and Fens Reservoir and associated water transfers are both advanced in their outline design.

They are both defined as Strategic Regional Options and have funding from the Regulators Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development.

Anglian Water water resources strategy manager Geoff Darch said the project would build on decades of infrastructure investment.

“To keep taps running in the future, we’ll need more water storage in our region, in the form of new reservoirs.”

Plans for the reservoirs were developed over 10 years, with the water company sharing the findings of a site selection study last autumn in what was the first of a multi-phase consultation on the proposals.

Mr Darch said: “Following a thorough and multi-stage site selection assessment process, assessing a wide range of criteria, we have now identified the best performing locations.

He added: “We think it’s right those who are potentially most affected find out first and have the opportunity to ask us any questions about what this might mean for them.”

The project would help secure water supplies for future generations, so Anglian Water could address the challenges of a changing climate, environmental protection and rising demand due to population growth.