3 May 1996

Drought prompts water cutbacks

By Tony McDougal

GROWERS in the Anglian region face restrictions on their water abstraction licences due to the lack of rainfall over the past 12 months.

The Environment Agency predicts prospects for spray irrigation for the areas 4200 farmer licence holders as moderate to poor, after the third driest 12 months in 140 years.

In a report to environment minister John Gummer, the Environment Agency warns that earlier-than-normal restrictions could be imposed on licence holders. But it hopes to avoid widespread compulsory bans by working with the farming community.

If irrigation restrictions come into force, they could seriously affect the production of early potatoes and horticultural crops.

Jerry Sherriff, Environment Agency head of water resources, recognised the impact restrictions could have on growers but said growers could help themselves.

"Farmers need to keep a close eye on the developing water resources situation and look at options such as on-farm winter storage to reduce the uncertainty of water supplies.

"Such schemes are good not only for the farmers, as they provide a reliable source of water during the summer, but also for the environment, as they reduce the amount of water taken from rivers when they are at low flow, which can be environmentally damaging."

Licensed abstractors

At present, farmers within the Anglian region have been licensed to abstract 140,115m litres of water, but last year only took out just over a third.

One of the most likely areas for restrictions is in north and east Lincs, where underground water levels in the chalk are very low, and river flows this summer are expected to be poor.

&#8226 Chichester magistrates fined Aad Tucker, of Merston Manor Farms, Halnaker £500 with £390 costs after he admitted two charges of illegally exceeding his water abstraction licence last summer.