The Environment Agency (EA) is adopting a flexible position on winter abstraction of water given the recent dry conditions which have left some growers unable to refill reservoirs sufficiently to meet water needs for the forthcoming growing season.
Speaking to Farmers Guardian at the Irrigex/Floodex event, held in Peterborough, Bob Hillier, senior adviser at the EA said the winter abstraction period would normally finish at the end of March. “But we could allow growers to take water beyond this with a winter extension period into April and possibly beyond if water is available without damaging the environment or other abstractors,” he said.
Paul Hammett, NFU water adviser said: “This is an important signal that the EA is willing and able to offer support to the farming community.”
He added: “Aquifer levels in East Anglia and the Midlands are below normal for the time of year, soil moisture deficit is going in the wrong direction for the time of year and some farmers are struggling to fill reservoirs. It is looking as though we will receive some restrictions. If this happens we could see a situation a little like last year with some farmers running out of water to grow our food.”
In preparation for a possible dry year, growers should check the conditions of their abstraction licence and ensure they comply with them, warned Mr Hammett. “The EA has wide powers and can refer licence infringements to the RPA which can be eye-wateringly expensive.”
Last year the NFU created a water bank designed to match potential water donors with water recipients, says Mr Hammett. “This year this will be superseded by the EA’s web-based mapping tool allowing growers to look at where licences around them may be available to trade.”
The Environment Agency recently updated its advice on flexible abstraction for farmers which is available on the NFU website.
The NFU and EA have also recently been running abstraction clinics with farmers in Lincolnshire, East Anglia and the West Midlands.