Abstractor planning

How do you think it would be best to encourage abstractors to plan for drought?

Why the contribution is important

Water companies are required to prepare and maintain drought plans.  These set out how water companies will respond to a drought - setting out how they will continue to meet their duties to supply adequate quantities of drinking water during drought periods and protect the environment.  The plans contain a series of trigger points for action by the companies although they have some discretion in the actions they take. 

If other water abstractors planned more for drought the resilience of their businesses would increase during a drought; this could have benefits for the economy.

by abstractionreform on September 05, 2014 at 11:03AM

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  • Posted by phammett September 05, 2014 at 15:14

    There were some good examples of drought planning by farmers working in abstractor groups during 2011 & 2012. In farming, drought plans probably work best at the river or local aquifer level. For example the Lark Abstractor Group talked to the Environment Agency about water levels in its aquifer in early 2012, decided that there was not enough water to last the whole growing season if it didn't rain (it did later of course)and all farmers in the group agreed to voluntarily reduce their permitted annual licensed volumes by 15%.During the 2011 dry spell, fenland south level abstractors worked with the EA and their IDB to suppress demand by agreeing to irrigating on only 4 days and then 2 days a week depending on availability. Simple but effective drought planning. Working together is the key.
  • Posted by RossHaddow September 07, 2014 at 10:47

    "If other water abstractors planned more for drought the resilience of their businesses would increase during a drought; this could have benefits for the economy."

    The implication in this broad brush statement is that agricultural water abstractors don't plan for drought!; which in my experience is the reverse of what is the case. In our case, and i would take us as very typical, every detail is planned, taking into account customer demand, climate, soil, weather records, ground or river levels, licence, equipment capability, crop demand, etc., etc. Of course many of us are trying to invest in storage lagoons which will allow us to abstract at times of plenty and use in times of shortage; however this has huge price implications, and needs to be invested in and supported as a national resource, and seen as benefit to the wider economy. Given the huge range in summer temperature and rainfall we experience in the UK, crop demand is always going to vary enormously. Our weather forecasters are as yet unable to get rainfall predictions correct to 24 hours, so there must be a wider understanding that abstractors have to plan for hot dry summers to ensure a crop is produced, and therefore only a small proportion of their licences will be used in many years.
    In terms of working together, Paul's illustrations above are not isolated cases, but just examples of regular individual and group practice. Conversations with customers have already started for 2015, and a big factor in the growers calculation will be his estimate of water availability and possible crop demand. Low water levels means reduced planted area, and an order lost.
    No grower can afford to plant a crop and find he cannot provide adequate water. margins are slim, and do not cover crop failure.

    Working together is key, and key stakeholders are customers, growers, water providers, and Government. Government needs to safeguard habitat, environment, drinking supplies, and provide and support long term water planning. A consistent approach would be helpful too.
    A big statement by Government and Ministers of goals about home food production targets and the importance of water storage to help with the minefield of planning would be a good starting point, followed by further financial incentives and support for water storage and efficiency.
  • Posted by KeithWeatherhead September 07, 2014 at 11:05

    Most farm abstractors plan for drought already, as far as they reasonably can. Why else are many contemplating reservoirs, and/or trying to retain headroom in licences?

    The question should really ask how Defra/EA can help them do it better.

    A first step would be to help all abstractors assess the risks more easily. The EA should publish the best available data on the expected reliability of each source, including data on upstream return flows (see separate discussion) and the volumes that other abstractors have actually abstracted in past years (bizarrely that's regarded as confidential, and hence secret).

  • Posted by eswag September 11, 2014 at 12:23

    The way forward for managing drought situation might be for dialogue between local users and the E.A. on how best to manage the decreasing quantities of water rather than stopping on an outright ban. This must be welcomed and encouraged. Early warning of impending drought situations leading to early discussions with all users on ways to tackle the problem must be right. Certainly this is the attitude portrayed by the team in the Ipswich E.A. office and it is welcomed.


    There are several actions that could be initiated now in preparation for the next drought period which will surely come. A list of ‘active’ water abstractors in each water body in readiness for local dialogue could be prepared and regularly updated. It could be led by an abstractor group if one exists. Not all abstractors are WAG members and ‘active’ does not breach the quantity abstracted data protection issue referred to by Keith Weatherhead. Collecting as much information as possible on the way each water body acts in a drought situation must also help. This would help the E.A. with their availability prediction which, in turn, must help abstractors with their plans to overcome the drought. This must take into account discharges and support pumping. As shown in 2011/12, the sooner this information can be made available, the more effective it can be for abstractors in aligning their requirements with availability.


  • Posted by abstractionreform September 24, 2014 at 13:38

    Thank you for your comments so far.
    Sorry if we gave the wrong impression, we are not suggesting abstractors do not plan for drought; we are sure they do, however, there is probably more that can be done.

    Some of the responses so far have given the view that many abstractors are already planning for drought and that abstractor groups are a key part of this.

    Can you suggest ways in which we could encourage abstractors who are not already part of abstractor groups to become members?
  • Posted by SouthStaffsWater October 09, 2014 at 13:13

    If abstraction reform proposals include for PWS supplies to be reduced in low flow periods, it is likely that customers will see more frequent and severe impacts from restrictions.
    For example if abstraction reform does not allow PWS to maintain suitable headroom, and imposes low flow restrictions;
    • PWS supplies begin at reduced level
    • In a drought supplies are reduced to protect the environment, and to protect a yield at sources, further reducing PWS supplies.
    • Customer demand increases in response to warm/dry weather
    • Further pressures on supplies
    • PWS implement TUBS – much sooner and more frequently that historically as a result of preceding factors
    • TUBS and other demand management options cannot maintain supply over demand
    • Drought permits requested much sooner to enhance supplies
    • NEU restrictions applied much sooner to further reduce demands
    • Drought management situations, and impacts on customers become more frequent, escalate quicker, and drought permits more likely.
    There will be benefits for business with a high reliance on water to also produce drought plans – all abstractors should plan for reduced supplies
  • Posted by CCWater October 09, 2014 at 14:32

    Water companies already plan for drought as part of their Drought and Water Resources Management Plans. Companies with a water shortage should work together to share and make best use of available water supplies.

    Our research (http://www.ccwater.org.uk/[…]/Understanding-Drought-and-Resilience.pdf ) indicates that customers are not widely engaged in the issue of drought and think it is something that rarely has impact on their lives. Furthermore, customers are not clear about the wider impact and implications of drought. They accept moderate drought restrictions but consider the ‘tipping point’ to occur when drought causes severe disruptions. They also see that reducing leaks is a more pressing investment.

    Our research also shows that customers do not have enough clarity as to what actions water companies are taking to manage drought besides introducing restrictions.

    As part of their legal duties, water companies promote the efficient use of water by their customers. This is particularly important in areas where water resources are seriously stressed or when there is a drought. Customer research shows that most consumers are happy to accept the water savings message but need clear guidance from water companies on what they can do to save water, particularly if restrictions are imposed in times of drought.
  • Posted by DCWW October 10, 2014 at 10:40

    As stated above, water companies have a statutory duty to plan for drought, and there is a well defined process set out for both water resource and drought planning that we have to follow to maintain supplies to our customers. These statutory processes include public consultation so that all those with an interest can make their views known to Ministers, who ultimately decide whether to approve our plans. Any abstraction reforms should ensure that there is a clear recognition of this planning process, and allow the full permissions to abstract set out within water company water resource and drought plans to be maintained.
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