Defra and the Welsh Government have announced plans to end water abstraction licensing exemptions in England and Wales.
The Statutory Instruments needed to make these changes will be put in place shortly, opening a two year abstraction licence application window on January 1, 2018.
The ‘New Authorisations’ licensing process will have a major impact on growers who rely on unlicensed trickle irrigation operations to meet their water needs.
The NFU says it is pleased that Government recognises existing trickle operations as lawful activities and that it welcomes Government promises of a ‘light touch’ approach to the licensing of currently exempt operations.
Exempt operators such as trickle irrigators will have two years to submit their licence application with effect from January 1, 2018. The licence determination process must be completed within five years of the application window opening.
It is estimated that 5,000 existing operations (across all uses and sectors) will require an abstraction licence for the first time. NFU says it expects that most applicants will successfully secure abstraction licences that meet their historic needs.
Paul Hammett, NFU water resources specialist, says: “We are reassured that the Environment Agency will apply a flexible, risk-based approach regarding evidence of historic use by abstractors.
“Nevertheless, new licences could limit potential business growth if they are based on past water use rather than future potential need."
In responding to the regulatory change, the NFU says that Government should now focus attention on how it can practically help farmers and growers cope with potential future shortages of water for irrigation, particularly in dry years. For example, NFU seeks support to reduce and remove fiscal and regulatory barriers to reservoir construction projects.