Rainfall boost needed to prevent ‘serious situation’

AVERAGE rainfall is required from November until July to avoid a serious situation arising for farmers, a meeting has heard.

A meeting for irrigators at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) eastern region office in Newmarket this month heard that average rainfall was required from November until July to prevent a serious situation developing.

Andrew Chapman from the Environment Agency confirmed to farmers who abstract water from the River Lark that October rainfall was less than half the long term average, and well below where it needed to be.

Mr Chapman said that soil moisture deficit was exceptionally high throughout the catchment, while groundwater levels were at 1996 levels and still falling.

He said the situation would be closely monitored into 2012 and farmers might be consulted on the potential introduction of voluntary restrictions for groundwater irrigation.

NFU senior policy adviser Paul Hammett said: “The fact that river flows are lower now than in June and July will have an impact on farmers waiting to use winter flows to fill reservoirs.

“For those reservoir licences with Hands Off Flow (which prevent farmers taking water from rivers) conditions we are potentially some way off river flows being high enough to permit reservoir filling. This may not be until the new year.”

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Members at the meeting were concerned that the situation would limit the time available and the ability to refill before next spring. The Agency confirmed it would try to be flexible in allowing reservoir filling in spring and summer next year, if flows were high enough.

Another meeting of Lark abstractors and the Environment Agency is due to take place in the New Year.