What Are Abstraction Licences & Why Do We Need Them?
The government has announced that changes are due to be implemented to the Environment Agency’s abstraction charges, with a new framework launched for businesses (including farmers and water suppliers) that abstract over 20 cubic metres of water daily from rivers, streams, canals or groundwater.
The changes will be brought in from April 1st, with the aim being to protect the environment, safeguard precious water supplies for future generations and provide a fairer system whereby people pay for services received and those that abstract a lot of water pay more.
The charges themselves haven’t been amended for the last ten years, but will now be based on the volume of water abstracted from the environment, where the water is taken from and how much of it is later returned to the environment.
It’s expected that the development will see £25 million in additional income secured each year, helping to protect sensitive habitats like chalk streams, safeguard access to water and meet a range of environmental challenges.
Climate change and population growth are both putting increasing amounts of pressure on water resources in England. Unless action is taken, experts are predicting that parts of the country will see significant shortages by the year 2050, with some rivers seeing between 50 and 80 per cent less water in the summer months.
Recent projections suggest that by 2050, England will need over 3.4 billion additional litres each day – a rise of 23 per cent compared to current supplies.
Chief executive of the Environment Agency Sir James Bevan said: “The biggest long-term threat to the environment, our economy and our lifestyle is water quantity – simply having enough for people and wildlife.
“In the face of the climate emergency, population growth and rising demand for water, we need to ensure that all those who use water, and rely on it for their business, can continue to do so now and into the future, as well as better protecting our rivers and aquifers.
“As part of this we need a system that allows us to charge fully and fairly for the services we provide to preserve water supplies and help businesses meet their needs in a sustainable way that protects the environment.”
What are abstraction licences?
Anyone who wants to remove or abstract water from either an underground source or a surface source (such as a canal, stream or river) and wants to take more than 20 cubic metres a day will most likely need to have an abstraction licence in place in order to do so.
Not all activities will require this, however, such as some land drainage operations, the filling of boats or ships with drinking or ballast water, firefighting or water quality testing in underground strata (as long as Environment Agency consent has been granted).
The licence gives you the right to abstract an agreed-upon quantity of water, as well as guaranteeing that other licence applicants won’t be able to take the share of water already allocated to you.
However, the licence doesn’t come with a guarantee that the amount authorised will always be available and it doesn’t guarantee the quality of the water itself. This can, of course, depend on factors like climate, the weather and so on.
The licences are usually issued for a period of 12 years at a time. Although they do come with a presumption of renewal, you will still need to reapply when the time comes so that you can prove to the Environment Agency that the amount of water is still required and that you have been using it efficiently.
There are three types of licence you can apply for:
- A full abstraction licence for more than 20 cubic metres a day
- A transfer licence for moving water from one source to another without being used in between
- A temporary licence for abstractions of more than 20 cubic metres a day for less than 28 consecutive days.
In order to apply for your licence, you will need to get in touch with the Environment Agency so you can discuss your proposal and so they can see what assessment level is required. You may have to test the source if your proposed abstraction is from groundwater.
You can then submit a formal application, with all supporting information and a fee. It may be necessary for the Agency to advertise your application before it can be granted or otherwise. You will be informed of their decision in writing, as will other interested parties. If your application is unsuccessful, you have 28 days to appeal the decision.
Why do we need abstraction licences?
The licensing system is necessary in order to protect water resources and make sure that any abstractions don’t cause environmental damage. If abstraction was unregulated, it could potentially result in water shortages, more pollution (thanks to reduced dil/ution) and damage to biodiversity and wildlife habitats.
Water is an essential resource and one that provides society with a vast array of different benefits, everything from drinking water to support for agriculture and business.
As such, it’s essential that the water environment continues to function as it should, protecting the natural environment and economic growth at the same time, as well as prioritising public health and wellbeing.
One of the biggest water management challenges facing England is abstraction and flow regulation – and this needs to be done in a sustainable way. If not, it will lead to reduced water levels and flows, which could then have a greater impact ecologically, such as by hindering the progress of migratory fish and affecting spawning success, as well as leading to habitat loss and an increase of invasive plant species.
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