Changes to Water Abstraction and Impoundment in England

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.

This projection includes more than a million 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.

The NFWR 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.

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

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

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. The first 350 of these were issued at the end of March with 1000 more to be determined by the end of 2022.

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 consultation period regarding the water resources charging proposals ended on 10 November 2021 and 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 volume and site-specific elements around water availability/quality and 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.

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.

In the next phase of the consultation process which runs until 22 December 2021, opinions are sought on the proposed implementation of incorporating abstraction licensing with the EPR. The proposals include, for example, the inclusion of a new groundwater investigation abstraction activity within the EPR, which replaces the Groundwater Investigation Consent. In addition, the EA will provide operators with a set of criteria against which to demonstrate ‘sufficient control’ whilst still allowing a third party to carry out the activity. Water abstraction and impoundment activities can occur under one permit.

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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