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Government consults on abstraction reform

The government has today launched a consultation on reforms to its abstraction licence system as it looks to modernise the way water is taken from rivers and groundwater. The reform is needed because of the growing pressures on water resources, and the introduction of a more efficient and resilient water abstraction system will protect the environment in the long-term.

Changes introduced have ensured licensed abstraction will not reduce flows in the River ItchenChanges introduced have ensured licensed abstraction will not reduce flows in the River Itchen

The consultation proposals include:

  • Linking the amount of abstraction allowed more closely with how much water is available
  • Making trading water much quicker and easier, giving licence holders a greater incentive to use their water responsibly. Licence holders include farmers and industry

Launching the consultation, environment minister Dan Rogerson said:“The old abstraction system is no longer flexible enough to deal with the challenges of climate change and a growing population. That is why it is crucial we introduce these new reforms to safeguard our environment in the future and allow the economy to grow.

“This is really important to get right so I want to encourage everyone who has an interest, including farmers, businesses, and water companies, to tell us their views.”

Water abstraction is currently controlled by a system of licences set up in the 1960s, when water supplies were not considered to be as limited as they are now. The current system is not flexible enough to deal with the future challenges of climate change and population growth whilst still protecting the environment and allowing for economic growth. Also, the current system does not incentivise licence holders to manage their water efficiently or make it easy for them to trade it.

An Abstraction Reform Advisory Group, comprising major trade associations and environmental groups, has been brought together to help develop the proposals.

The consultation closes on March 28, 2014.

Defra is also working with Ofwat and the Environment Agency (EA) to tackle unsustainable abstraction. An example of this is the success of the Restoring Sustainable Abstraction programme, by Defra and the EA, in the River Itchen in Hampshire.

The changes introduced ensured that licensed abstraction will not reduce flows in the river to an extent that can cause harm to the wildlife for which the Itchen is so important.

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