DEFRA last week reported good progress had been made in reforming abstraction management and that it is largely on track with scheduled future actions.
The department published a statutory abstraction reform report required under the 2014 Water Act. The report detailed actions since Act (which removed water companies’ compensation rights for abstraction licence changes), including the publication of the government’s abstraction plan in December 2017. Since then, it noted that previously exempt abstractors had been able to apply for licences since January 2018; that a digital licence platform had been developed and gone live in March 2018; that 650 unused or under-used licences had been revoked or reduced by the end of 2018; and that the Environment Agency had begun work in April 2018 in four priority catchments to test the new catchment based approach. All four catchments – the Cam and Ely Ouse, East Suffolk, South Forty Foot, and Idle and Torne – are characterised by having unmet demand for additional water and have potential for water to be better shared amongst abstractors.
The report also set out key milestones running through to 2027 when abstraction reform is due to be completed. At present, most of these are on track. The key revision is the delay by a year from 2019 to 2020 on a consultation on moving water resource licensing to the Environmental Permitting Regulations. This is intended to provide a more modern and consistent legal framework for the day-to-day management of abstraction. DEFRA said the Environment Agency is drawing on experience from those regimes that have previously transitioned to inform the timetable and process for the move.