Farmers face water restrictions

WATER restrictions on farmers irrigating their land from rivers in south Suffolk and north Essex are looking increasingly imminent as the hot weather continues.

WATER restrictions on farmers irrigating their land from rivers in south Suffolk and north Essex are looking increasingly imminent as the hot weather continues.

The Environment Agency has warned that the Rivers Deben, Gipping and Fynn are now very low and while their levels are not yet critical, it is now expressing concern about the situation.

“River levels are getting to the point where we are getting quite concerned about them,” said Jonathan Thompson, the Environment Agency's water resources team leader at Ipswich, yesterday .

The agency wrote to farmers in the affected areas, which stretch from Minsmere in a line roughly westwards, in April and June to warn them that restrictions on surface water abstraction could be imminent and asking for their voluntary co-operation in keeping usage as low as possible.


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It said farmers had responded well to their warnings. The agency has been working to avoid any formal restrictions for as long as possible, but is monitoring the rivers closely and looking for signs of fish in distress as oxygen levels fall. Although a wet May helped, June had 30% of its average rainfall. Similar restrictions have already been put in place on the River Cam and the Fenland area.

“They have understood the message, and they have put restrictions on themselves,” said Mr Thompson. “We are very happy with what farmers are doing, but if the situation continues to decline, which it may well do, then we may well have to put formal restrictions on some of the catchments.

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An underground supply from a borehole at Earl Soham has been helping to alleviate the problem in the River Deben.

But if the rivers reach a critical point, then the agency will apply a Section 57 formal restriction. This would probably happen in stages, with water use restricted to one day in two, then perhaps one day in four if necessary.

“We are holding off as long as we can,” said Mr Thompson.

Luckily, farmers were reaching the end of the irrigation period, which tended to tail off at the end of July or the end of August, depending on the type of crops grown, he said.

“We can stop all abstraction, but that's certainly not what we are looking at at the moment. We are trying to work with them to keep the situation balanced as much as we can. We are not putting any formal restrictions on yet,” he said.

If restrictions were enforced, they would talk to any individuals who felt they would be badly affected to see what could be done, he said.

However, it looked unlikely they would get through the year without some form of ban, he said.

“We may, but I doubt it. I have to be honest at this stage - the forecast is for it to be quite dry,” he said.

“We really are trying to avoid it as much as possible.”

Peter Youngs, chairman of the East Suffolk Water Abstractors Group, which represents 80 farmers in the area, said they were being kept informed by the Environment Agency and felt the impact would not be too great for them.

“Hopefully, if restrictions do now come there won't be too much impact on the farmers,” he said. “It's not going to be too critical now for most abstractors. Fortunately, the peak season has passed.”

Brian Finnerty, regional press officer with the National Farmers' Union said many farmers were now investing in their own water storage facilities, but for those who had not, it could be a “difficult situation”.

* If anyone sees distressed fish in rivers, they are asked to call the Environment Agency on 0800 807060 so it can take action.

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