16 August 2002

Water bill for farming?

FURTHER restrictions and costs amounting to £7.3bn could be faced by the UK farming industry over the next 25 years if the EU demands a further significant improvement in the quality of coastal bathing waters, according to a new report.

The report, commissioned by DEFRA, suggests that there is little that can be done to significantly improve bathing water quality by improving sewage company discharges after 2005 and that the best return on pollution control investment would come from agriculture.

It says measures to combat pollution of coastal waters could include preventing livestock access to waterways and a ban on the spreading of wastes on land during the bathing season.

Other measures could include restrictions on the grazing of livestock near waterways and improvements to animal waste stores.

The report also says that much of the cost will have to be met via subsidies.

DEFRA asked Cascade Consulting of Manchester to identify the measures needed to upgrade bathing waters.

The work was carried out by Kieran Conlan, who also works as a consultant to the EU and has conducted studies for the Environment Agency.

Dr Conlan concluded that the improvements to sewage works over the past decade and the continuing work programme up to 2005 meant that the greatest improvement to water quality would come from reducing the pollution by livestock of waterways which drain into coastal bathing waters.

The cost scenarios faced by agriculture range from £9.7m for maintaining Class C – the present EU mandatory quality standard – to £3.5bn for achieving Class B and £7.3bn for reaching Class A.

Dr Conlan warns that lack of reliable data could mean the figures are over-estimated.

DEFRA commissioned the report because it is involved in negotiations within the EU over possible revisions of the latters bathing water directive. &#42