While most individuals and businesses use water from the public water supply, many others rely on access to untreated water abstracted directly from the environment.  This water can come from surface water, such as rivers, or from groundwater, in aquifers. 

Overall, there are around 20,000 abstraction licences, of which around 1,100 are in Wales.  Generally, an abstractor who takes more than 20 cubic metres of water a day requires a licence.  Examples of abstractors include water companies, farmers who use water for irrigating crops, manufacturers and industry who use water for processing products and power generating companies who use water for cooling.

In December 2013, Defra and the Welsh Government ran a joint consultation on proposals for reforming the water abstraction management system.  A summary of the consultation responses was published on 9th July

In the consultation we proposed introducing low flow controls for all abstractors who currently do not have flow based controls (known as hands off flows) on their licences.  This would mean at the very lowest flows abstraction would be required to significantly reduce.  These requirements have a clear link with drought controls, as they would only function at very low flows.

Many of the reforms proposed in the consultation are designed to better link water abstraction to availability and facilitate trading.  This could mean that for short-term and less severe droughts, the reformed abstraction management system is able to allocate enough water to abstractors and protect the environment without the need for additional drought tools.  However low flow controls could still be activated.

A number of consultation responses asked how this link would be made with drought controls.  The farming sector requested that low flow controls should apply to all abstractors and that section 57 of the Water Resources Act 1991, which puts restrictions in drought only on spray irrigators should be removed.  Some responses also suggested that we impose gradual restrictions rather than one level at which abstractions cease.  

What we have been doing

In the consultation and summary of responses we said we intended to carry out further work to examine:

  • How current drought management mechanisms would work alongside the consultation proposals; and
  • The interaction between drought regulations and abstraction controls at low flows.

We have carried out further work including further examining graduated low flow controls; this would mean that limits on abstraction were gradually introduced rather than stopping immediately.

We have also been examining the economic and environmental cost and benefits of different mechanisms for managing abstraction as water availability decreases.

What we would appreciate your help with

This online dialogue will run for five weeks up until 10 October 2014.  We would like your views on how drought should be managed alongside a reformed abstraction system.

Further information on current drought management can be read in: Supporting Information for Digital Dialogue on Drought.

We want to make this as much of a conversation as possible.  We have posted questions that we would like you to discuss at the bottom of this page.  At the end of each week we will summarise what we consider to be the key points from each discussion.  We will also respond as far as possible to questions for clarification.  The forum will also enable you to rate ideas suggested.  All views are welcome and we ask that you are courteous to other users.

How to take part

You will need to complete a simple registration process by going to the register link at the top of the page.  When you register you will be required to provide a username and email address.  The username will be made public along with the comments made in the Dialogue.  Please consider this when choosing a username.

What happens next?

We will summarise the comments made on the different questions regularly, and consider all of them as we develop final policy options


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