Defra has announced the first four “priority catchments” that will trial the new approach to abstraction management the department set out in its December 2017 reform plan.
In these catchments, where change is pressing, the intention is for the Environment Agency to work with abstractors and catchment groups, such as catchment partnerships, to update the existing abstraction licensing strategy by capturing a shared position.
This will include considering innovative approaches to abstraction management to address catchment challenges. Some possibilities were described in the December documents – such as low flow controls, licence caps, water trading, taking water at high flows into storage for use at other times, sharing real-time information on river flows and forecast changes to help abstractors plan their water use, and managing discharges to benefit abstractors downstream who depend on them. Other ideas may come from abstractors and partners.
The four catchments selected are:
Idle & Torne in East Midlands
The South Forty Foot in Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire (also known as The Black Sluice)
East Suffolk in East Anglia (Suffolk’s Holistic Water Management Project)
Cam & Ely Ouse in East Anglia.
The Environment Agency will also look to address unsustainable abstraction in two of these catchments – East Suffolk and Cam & Ely Ouse.
The Agency prioritised the four catchments because there is:
Unmet demand for water either continuously or at particular times of the year, such as when flows are low or demand for water is high.
Potential to share water between abstractors to meet that demand – for example, potential for making better use of stored water or a new resource that is being planned.
A critical mass of abstractors – for example, a water abstractor group or catchment partnership to work with the Environment Agency and consider alternative approaches to water management.
Learning from the process, the intention is for the Agency to publish updated abstraction licensing strategies for ten catchments by 2021. All abstraction licence strategies will be updated prior to 2027 as part of the third cycle of river basin management plans