WWF urges immediate abstraction reform as rivers struggle and drought looms

WWF has called for abstraction reform to be progressed as a matter of urgency as low rainfall threatens drought and long term environmental damage.

The wildlife group painted a stark picture of a water environment already struggling to cope with the demands put upon it by thirsty public water supply and agriculture: “More than 550 bodies of water in England and Wales are being over-abstracted, affecting iconic rivers like the Itchen and urban chalk streams like the Cray, which have seen their flow decrease and turn to trickles.” Noting that April was one of the driest months on record, it said the environmental implications – including the very survival of the water vole and kingfisher – “are likely to get worse over the next few months and years unless urgent action is taken.”

Urgent reform of the abstraction system – which the government recently shelved citing a hectic Parliamentary timetable in the wake of Brexit – was one recommendation in a report published by WWF on Saturday. “If new legislation is not introduced soon the effects of poor management of water abstractions and dry weather are likely to have devastating consequences for our rivers,” the group said. Water for Wildlife recommended:

  • Transposing the Water Framework Directive in full as part of the Great Repeal Bill and establishing mechanisms and sanctions to enforce its implementation and uphold its 2027 deadline after we leave the European Union.

  • A new ‘Restoring Sustainable Abstraction scheme’ to take urgent action at the 555 river water bodies where the Environment Agency has proven that abstraction is already damaging the ecology.

  • An immediate move to an abstraction licensing regime that links abstraction to availability encourages efficient use and ensures sufficient water for wildlife in every river to prevent future damaging abstraction and secure greater resilience.

  • A national strategy to cut water waste. WWF said: “With a third of water taken from the natural environment being through leaky pipes, losses in treatment and in the home, we need plan to ensure every home and business is water efficient, to communicate the value of water with a fairer system of paying for water through universal smart water metering.”