New water abstraction plans worry NFU

23 June 1998

New water abstraction plans worry NFU

By Boyd Champness

A PROPOSAL to change Britains 35-year-old water abstraction rules has been met with fear and loathing from National Farmers Union headquarters.

Michael Meacher, environment minister, recently launched a package of proposals to reduce excessive abstraction and conserve valuable water supplies.

Mr Meacher said these proposals, in conjunction with the Governments current programme to reduce leaks by half, should eliminate excessive and damaging water abstraction.

“It should ensure that the damage to wildlife and the wider environment generated by over-abstraction in the drought two or three years ago is never repeated again,” he said.

The Government proposes to:

  • bring nearly all types of abstraction and water transfer under some form of control and streamline administration;
  • remove compensation for variation or revocation of abstractions which are causing environmental damage;
  • put a time limit – generally of 15 years – on all new abstraction authorisations and gradually introduce time limits for most existing licences;
  • secure efficient use of abstracted water; and
  • remove abstractors future protection from liability where their abstractions are causing financial loss to others

The proposals are now up for consultation. The NFU has already expressed concern about the Governments desire to further reduce water usage, and in particular, their decision to remove compensation for any licences that are varied or revoked.

An NFU spokeswoman said farmers immediately and wrongly spring to mind when bureaucrats consider water restrictions because crop irrigation is such a visible use of resources.

“The agriculture industry only accounts for 1% of water abstractions and, although this is set to increase, its nothing when you consider that the public are responsible for 51% of abstractions and industry responsible for 48%,” she said.

Ben Gill, NFU president, will put forward farmers concerns when he meets Mr Meacher on 2 July.

  • The consultation paper – The Review of the Water Abstracting Licensing System in England and Wales – is available on the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions website at, or by post from the address below.

  • Responses to consultation should be sent in by 7 September, 1998, by Email to or by post to Water Supply and Regulation Division, DETR, 3/H18, Ashdown House, 123 Victoria St, London SW1E 6DE.

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