Water abstraction licences deadline extended

Farmers have been given an extra six months to apply for an abstraction licence for previously exempt activities.

The deadline for making an application under the Environment Agency’s favourable transitional arrangements has been pushed from 31 December 2019 to 30 June 2020.

New regulations came into effect on 1 January 2018, originally offering farmers a two-year window to get a licence in place for certain activities (see “Who needs to apply?” below) if they abstract more than 20cu m of water/day.

See also: Farmers told to apply for water abstraction licences now 

The NFU said the extension had been granted following representations to Defra.

“For the farming and growing sector, the biggest impact of regulatory change is that all forms of irrigation, including trickle, now requires a licence,” it said.

“This has been a relatively high-profile issue and we are satisfied that most [but not all] affected growers have now submitted applications for new abstraction licences.”

But it added: “We are concerned, however, that farmers and growers who abstract water within so-called previously ‘exempt geographical areas’ may still be unaware of the need to take action.”

‘Ongoing confusion’

The union said there was also ongoing confusion surrounding the need for some landowners to apply for abstraction licences for managed wetland systems and water-level management plans.

“It is clear that the regulatory position faced by some farmers and growers is complicated, hence our call for more time for them to ensure they take appropriate steps to remain compliant.”

Historic usage

The Environment Agency has said that anyone who makes a valid application by the new deadline will be granted a licence based on their water usage from 2011-17, rather than current water availability.

Any application submitted after 30 June 2020, will be based on water availability which, for many parts of the country, would rule out the abstraction of water in the summer months.

Ian Johnson, water resources manager for the Environment Agency, said: “This is a helpful last chance for previously exempt abstractors to apply, based on what they have needed, rather than be constrained by the current water availability for licensing.

“If you miss this opportunity, any further abstraction will be unlawful without a current licence.”

Who needs to apply?

Farmers abstracting more than 20cu m on any one day for one of the previously exempt purposes listed below, and where the abstraction started before 1 January 2018, must apply to the Environment Agency for an abstraction licence.

  • All forms of irrigation, including trickle
  • Transfers into managed wetland systems to maintain field water levels
  • Abstractions within previously exempt areas – there are currently 11 of these dotted across England and Wales
  • Transferring water by a navigation, harbour or conservancy authority
  • Abstracting water into and between internal drainage districts
  • Dewatering mines, quarries and engineering works
  • Warping (abstraction of water containing silt for deposit on to agricultural land)
  • The majority of abstractions covered by Crown and visiting forces
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