Government clamps down on 'unsustainable' water abstraction

PUBLISHED: 12:58 15 December 2017 | UPDATED: 12:58 15 December 2017

Therese Coffey MP

Therese Coffey MP


The government has launched a new abstraction reform plan which it says will provide better access to water and modernise the service.

The plan aims to prevent “unsustainable” abstraction by reviewing existing licences and introducing more controls to protect rivers, lakes and groundwater as supplies come under increasing pressure.

It says there will be a “strong focus” on catchment areas for water bodies to encourage more partnership working between the Environment Agency, abstractors and catchment groups to help the environment and improve access to water.

It will also be brought up to date with online licence applications and brought into line with other environmental regulations.

From January, the Environment Agency is set to regulate around 5,000 water users which have historically been exempt from regulation to create a “fairer” system and help protect the environment, the government says.

Latest data shows that 5% of surface water bodies and 15% of groundwater bodies are at risk because current abstraction licence holders are abstracting greater amounts, it adds.

Environment minister Thérèse Coffey said the licensing system was in “clear need of reform”.

“I believe our approach will work for all parties and, most importantly, will protect our precious water supplies.

Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it and we will keep building on our successes by enhancing our environmental standards and delivering a green Brexit,” she said.

“Making sure that abstraction is sustainable and contributes to healthy water bodies that are able to provide good support to fish and other aquatic life is at the heart of these plans.

“While good progress has been made in recent years, the plan emphasises the importance of the Environment Agency, the water industry and other stakeholders working in partnership at a catchment level to improve and protect the environment and improve access to water.

The Environment Agency clampdown on “unsustainable” abstraction should see around 90% of surface water bodies and 77% of groundwater bodies meet the required standards by 2021, it says.

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