The Environment Agency has worked with abstractors and the National Farmers Union (NFU) to temporarily abstract flood water to fill large reservoirs, subject to it not causing derogation to existing licensed abstractors or creating any environmental risk or damage. Where abstractors applied to take more water than their current licensed quantities, the Environment Agency assessed these as one off requests and asked abstractors to apply to vary their licences to properly reflect their needs and provide access to this water in the future.
The temporary period of high flow abstraction ended on the 7 February. The Environment Agency has so far only received 5 applications, of which 3 were approved. This reflects the fact that most farm reservoirs are already full due to the wet winter and saturated soil conditions. The NFU does not anticipate any further requests from their members to extend the period of high flow abstraction beyond this date.
This initiative follows on from the so called ‘flexible abstraction’ approach that the Environment Agency implemented over the last few years to help farmers with water availability during prolonged dry weather, including refilling reservoirs outside of licensed abstraction periods when river flows were sufficiently high to protect other abstractors and the environment.
We highlighted the potential of high flow abstraction to help abstractors improve access to water in our Water Abstraction Plan, published in 2017. Since then the Environment Agency has undertaken trials to investigate its feasibility. It has published results in the relevant Abstraction Licensing Strategies, for the Lincolnshire Witham and the East Midlands Idle and Torne. In the Witham Catchment, it concluded that high flow abstraction could be used to fill reservoirs throughout the year. However, in the Idle and Torne catchment, it concluded that high flows are important for controlling sedimentation and that more evidence would be needed before any high flow abstraction licences could be granted.
The Environment Agency will continue to consider applications for new and varied abstraction licences on a case-by-case basis to ensure maximum access to water is possible whilst protecting the rights of other abstractors and the environment.