Defra has given the green light to a number of pilot projects to investigate the passing of river maintenance and operational activities from the Environment Agency (EA) to Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) where there is mutual agreement, a locally generated appetite, and benefit to doing so.
According to the Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA), if successful, the pilots will lead to the permanent passing of these activities to the IDBs concerned.
The catchment areas and IDBs involved in the pilots are:
As the initial part of the process Defra, the EA and ADA will be working with the IDBs in these pilot areas to consult the local community and other interested parties on whether they support the change in designation.
Speaking to FG Insight, ADA chief executive, Innes Thomson, said: “To date the Environment Agency has carried out little or no maintenance on these sections. The Internal Drainage Boards will publish detailed thoughts on what they’re going to manage to do and how they’re going to do it.”
It is uncertain whether drainage rates paid by landowners will increase as a result of the plans. Currently landowners and councils pay drainage rates in IDB catchment areas. ADA technical manager Ian Moodie said: “There shouldn’t be a dramatic increase.”
Mr Thomson added: “We’re not saying there will not be requests for additional input from people but this will be done with the common agreement of those.
“The reason we’re going ahead is because of a call from local communities who’ve said they are prepared for very small initial amounts for carrying out maintenance on those water courses that for many years has not been carried out by the Environment Agency.
“These pilots have been a long time coming and ADA warmly welcomes Defra’s decision to go ahead. Many people have worked hard to prepare the way and we all look forward to working together to make these pilots work for everyone.”
As the IDBs prioritise work in their catchments in the future, there is a possibility management of some minor water courses will pass to landowners, said Mr Moodie.
Lincolnshire-based farmer and Water Resources East member David Matthews welcomed news about the transfer proposals. “To me it seems a logical step,” he said.
“Drainage boards are very much on the ground. They are doing the business anyway and for them to take in some Environment Agency sections seems totally logical. There will be potential efficiencies with IDBs doing more and I have no fears about the costs being more.”