In December 2017 DEFRA published the ‘Water Abstraction Plan’, aiming to approach water abstraction in a more environmental and sustainable way. In this document, DEFRA sets out its intentions to reform water abstraction and roll out a new, modernised scheme by 2021.
As a result of this paper being published and reviewed, abstraction licences will be undergoing a process of assessment and review over the coming months, particularly in the Ant and Bure catchment, as the Environment Agency (EA) looks to closely monitor how licences are utilised, administered and monitored.
In this time of change the following points are worth noting to water users:
- The EA intends to change all abstraction licences into permits. The new permitting scheme will be regulated by DEFRA and the EA, but come under the Environmental Permitting Regulation umbrella, similar to how waste management schemes and flood risk permits work currently. These permits have started to be rolled out and will show the same information as licences, just in a compressed, digital format.
- There will clearly be an increase in the regulation and control of all abstraction licences. With the publication of the Agricultural Bill, farmers may be asked to justify their water usage not only on a food production basis but also on an environmental basis. This may include monitoring water levels and flow rates of abstraction points. Reviews are currently ongoing, particularly in the Ant and Bure catchments, and involve the EA looking into the potential effects of water abstraction on habitats and water levels, through the active monitoring and historic measuring of water volume use and water levels.
- Licences that have no time limit (in perpetuity) will remain the same and become a ‘permanent permit’, however during the transition process time-limited licences may be altered. Licence reviews that have filtered through our office so far would suggest that the EA have intentions to review and reduce licences where possible, often looking at usage over the last 5-10 years as a reference.
- Farmers looking to alter their licences must be wary that any ‘Major Variations’ to licences may lead to the EA reviewing the whole licence. Major changes to licences include anything other than changing the contact details of the licence, such as a change in water use, volume, abstraction point, etc. Licence holders should be cautious when looking to alter licences, particularly those with no time limit.
- Water charges are expected to be altered and will be based on the catchment, water usage and time-scale of the licence. Compensation to those licence users that have their licence revoked will continue. More information on this to come.
The NFU have noted that further consultation of a lot of the above will occur in late 2019, however the EA have started actively reviewing licence where possible already.
If you would like any further help or advice regarding these changes, please give our office a call and will be happy to help where possible.