25 February 2000

Guarantees demanded over water extraction

By David Green

FARMERS in "dry" East Anglia have asked for long-term assurances that they will be able to irrigate their crops before agreeing to invest in the construction of on-farm reservoirs.

About £250,000 was recently invested in a 60m gallon reservoir at Manor Farm, Feltwell Anchor, Norfolk. The reservoir was filled this winter and will irrigate some 1400ha (3500 acres) of arable land. But farm manager Colin Holman criticised restrictions which have been imposed on his abstraction licence. He said: "This type of investment needs long-term certainty."

Investment

Other producers in the region are under pressure to build the reservoirs as a means of reducing bore-hole abstraction for summer irrigation.

East Anglia has the lowest annual rainfall in the UK and just over half of its public water supply comes from bore holes operated by water companies.

But other farmers are reluctant to invest in water storage because on-farm reservoirs can cost anything from £100,000 to more than £350,000, said the Country Landowners Association.

Costing reservoirs

Expensive on-farm reservoirs have to be costed over many years to be viable but licences to abstract water when supplies are more plentiful in the winter are limited to a decade, said Paul Long, CLA regional secretary.

"Thats a major investment and no grant aid is available. Yet having spent such sums, farmers have no guarantee that the water they have saved will be available to them after the ten year period of the licence."

Recent droughts in East Anglia clearly show that the regions water resources are limited and climate change could exacerbate the situation, said Mr Long. He added: "Landowners are as concerned about the sustainability of water resources as anyone. We firmly believe that winter storage should be encouraged."

Colin Holman – critical of moves.