Defra has published its Water abstraction plan 2017. This sets out how the government will reform the way it manages water abstraction, to protect the environment and improve access to water.

It has been updated to include the first four Initial Priority Catchments: Idle & Torne in East Midlands, The South Forty Foot in Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire (also known as The Black Sluice), East Suffolk in East Anglia and Cam & Ely Ouse in East Anglia.

Defra Summary

Access to water is vital to society and a wide range of people depend on it, from households to farmers and industry. Most businesses taking more than 20,000 litres of water a day directly from rivers or groundwater require an abstraction licence. The current approach to managing abstraction has three main issues:

  • some older licences allow abstraction that can damage the environment
  • the current approach is not flexible enough to cope with the pressures of increasing demand for water and climate change in the long term, or to allow abstractors access to additional water when it is available
  • the abstraction service is outdated and paper-based

Government published a range of approaches to address these issues in January 2016 following formal consultation. This plan explains how these will be implemented over the coming years. Our approach to addressing these issues has three main elements:

  • making full use of existing regulatory powers and approaches to address unsustainable abstraction and move around 90% of surface water bodies and 77% of groundwater bodies to the required standards by 2021
  • developing a stronger catchment focus – bringing together the Environment Agency, abstractors and catchment groups to develop local solutions to existing pressures and to prepare for the future. These local solutions will:
    • protect the environment by changing licences to better reflect water availability in catchments and reduce the impact of abstraction
    • improve access to water by introducing more flexible conditions that support water storage, water trading and efficient use
  • supporting these reforms by modernising the abstraction service, making sure all significant abstraction is regulated and bringing regulations in line with other environmental permitting regimes

We will report to parliament by May 2019 on progress made on abstraction reform.

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