12 April 2002

Water initiative due to set sail

By Tom Allen-Stevens

FARMERS have been urged to take part in an unprecedented collaboration between water companies and the pesticide industry.

A joint water working group has been set up to implement strategies in seven catchment areas of the UK to alleviate problems of pesticide contamination of raw water. A key organisation represented in the group is Water UK, the water industrys lobbying body. It will join farmers, crop advisers and pesticide manufacturers in local sub-groups to agree problems and solutions.

"We want to come to decisions at a local level, but these have got to be made in conjunction with local farmers," said Water UKs policy development adviser Jacob Tompkins.

"This is not about imposing restrictions on farmers which would be impractical or reduce farm incomes. Nor is it about banning pesticides. This would only be brought in as a last resort and if farmers agree."

But in the past Water UK has clashed with the Crop Protection Association, which represents pesticide manufacturers. It has repeatedly called for "certain pesticides" to be banned because removing them from drinking water costs water companies around £600m/year, it claims.

"Were very happy that Water UK has moved to a position of working with everyone on this joint initiative," said the CPAs Richard Trow-Smith.

The move was also applauded by Chris Wise, who represents the NFU on the joint working group. "This is real turn-around. If theyre prepared to give it a real crack then its up to us to make it work."

He said that recent parliamentary questions showed there were MPs who wanted a pesticide tax back on the agenda. "This water initiative is a great opportunity to show we can achieve our aims without one."

There are rumours that not everyone in the water industry feels the collaborative approach will work. However, Steve White, planning manager at Thames Water, who has always argued the case strongly for banning certain pesticides, told farmers weekly he was looking forward to some positive results from the Cherwell Valley project.

"Its not just about making improvements, but also about improving awareness. Im sure farmers dont want to feel as though theyre contaminating the water environment," he said.

He said that the maximum level of IPU and other common pesticides were regularly exceeded by 10 times or more in the catchment.

Other catchments and water companies involved in the project are Blithe (South Staffordshire Water), Whittle Dene (Northumbrian Water), Leam (Severn Trent Water), Aswarby (Anglian Water), Boston Park and Ingbirchworth (both Yorkshire Water).

The joint water working group was set up as part of the Voluntary Initiative – a programme of measures, agreed by government, to minimise the environmental impacts of pesticides. &#42

Signatories of the initiative include the CLA, UKASTA and the National Association of Agricultural Contractors.