Working out water economics

Dairy farmers milking up to 200 cows and paying annual water charges of about £8000 could comfortably offset the cost of installing a water borehole within a year, says Cheshire water engineer Richard Taylor.

As water charges become a big talking point among dairy farmers – with many facing bills of £10,000 and more – it is no wonder the idea of sinking a borehole to secure supplies and slash costs is being regarded as a worthwhile investment.

To install a borehole to provide up to 20cu m a day usually costs between £6500 and £7000.

And since last year’s easing in the regulations covering abstraction, it is now permissible to extract up to 20cu m of water a day – equivalent to 20,000 litres – without needing a licence.

Richard Taylor, who runs Blair Drilling, Cheshire, says the initial assessment of a farm’s suitability for water extraction can be made on the phone by feeding information about the farm into a geological database relevant to its location.

“The first thing we need to know is where the farm is to enable us to evaluate the geology of the location.

And while we’re talking to the farmer we can tap into data regarding other water supplies in the area, which may be relevant.

“But we won’t start drilling until we have completed a full hydrological prognosis to indicate geology, how much water we are likely to get and the quality of that water,” says Mr Taylor.

“At that stage we can quote for drilling and setting up the pumping system.

From the start of drilling to getting water on stream takes up to three weeks.”

A dairy farmer milking 160-200 cows should fall within the 20cu m a day band, which can be abstracted without a licence.

“There may be factors regarding purity of abstracted water, such as its iron content.

“Iron locks up copper, which can affect fertility, so additional filtering may be required,” says Mr Taylor.

Easing of water regulations has made installing a borehole attractive and cost effective for dairy farmers.

But the rules stipulate that removal of water must not affect someone else’s supply.

Dairy herds with more than 200 cows and with water requirements of more than 20cu m a day need to apply for an abstraction licence through the Environment Agency.

“Application has to be made to the Environment Agency to investigate it as a groundwater resource.

Once that has been granted it gives a one-year licence to drill and pump test the borehole.”

Although water usage for farms taking up to 20cu m a day is not monitored by the Environment Agency, farmers are advised to fit a water meter to monitor usage.

“Checks by the EA may be made for all sorts of reasons and when usage is found to be higher than the permitted abstraction the fines can be up to £1000 a day.”

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