How will changes to Water Abstraction and Impoundment licencing affect you?

In 2020 the Environment Agency (EA) published a National Framework for Water Resources (NFWR) stating that, without significant action, by 2050 around 3.4 million extra litres of water per day will be needed to address future pressures. Read on as Michael McDonald explores the NFWR changes and how they could affect you.

Written by Michael McDonald | Technical Director

National Framework for Water Resources (NFWR)

The NFWR projection includes more than a million extra litres of water per day to supply the growing population alone. Placing greater pressure on parts of England that are already over-abstracted, and highlighting the need to make hard choices now.

It also sets out a greater level of ambition for restoring, protecting, and improving the environment. Emphasising the belief that environmental resilience and protection should be viewed equally alongside the needs and social health of water company customers.

NFWR aims

Tasked with developing Regional Plans, the plans outlined in the NFWR aim to:

  1. Secure long-term reductions in water use to 110 litres per person, per day; and
  2. Reduce leakage by 50 percent by 2050

New Authorisations programme

Over the next five years, we face difficult decisions about how water will be allocated, valued, and funded. The EA is in the process of determining applications under the New Authorisations programme, bringing previously exempt abstraction activities into regulation. This translates as a change in the system, from abstraction licensing, to activities consented under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations (EPR) 2016.

Regulating new activities

By regulating activities such as quarry dewatering and trickle irrigation the aim is to ensure the environment is protected, as well as the needs of water users and the rights of abstractors. The key changes are detailed below.

Application charges

Dependent on the volume of the licence and on the water availability status of the catchment. Additional charges may arise, depending for example on the level of consultation or whether a Habitats Assessment is required.

Annual charges

An ‘all England’ set of charging bands will be introduced based on:

  1. volume
  2. site-specific elements around water quality and availability
  3. whether there is any benefit from specialised modelling undertaken by the EA

This will replace the regional Standard Unit Charge, which will benefit some abstractors, particularly those in the Anglian region. Changes will be site specific and whilst some abstractors could see significant savings, others (particularly winter only licences) will increase in cost quite significantly.

Changes to licence conditions

Whilst renewal of existing licences on the same terms will remain at the same very low application charge, renewals on different terms, major variations or applications for new licences will incur charges of thousands of pounds and need to be considered carefully in the context of resilience to climate change and, in particular, drought conditions.

To assist in assessing the charges that will apply to a specific site, the EA has produced an online map where it is possible to check the relevant factors and then estimate the annual charges with their Charge Indicator Tool.

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Want to know more?

We want our clients to be fully informed and prepared for revisions. If there’s a need for a licensed abstraction e.g. for dewatering works or a water supply, or you’d like to understand how the licencing changes might affect your existing or proposed abstraction, then get in touch with Mike McDonald to discuss how we can help.


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