Balancing discretion and certainty

How should we balance the need for discretion in applying water abstraction restrictions against the need to provide clear expectations for businesses upfront?

Why the contribution is important

Some discretion is important because the individual circumstances at a catchment level can be very different.  Having a degree of discretion allows for flexibility at the catchment level.  In the recent past the way in which the Environment Agency has used its discretion in applying section 57 restrictions on irrigators has been praised (see the supporting information for more information).  However many businesses and individuals may also want a level of certainty on when restrictions will apply in order to help them plan.

by abstractionreform on September 05, 2014 at 10:58AM

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  • Posted by phammett September 05, 2014 at 15:39

    The issue about section 57 restrictions is their unfairness because they apply only to farmers' spray irrigation licences. 'Hands off' conditions that are clearly defined, transparent, evidence based and applicable to all users can offer a level of certainty no matter how unpalatable the impact might be when the restriction is enforced. The abstractor needs to understand what the trigger is and how he can monitor it to help his drought planning. Flexibility comes by choosing a trigger that is locally relevant and evidence-based rather than one based on a complicated formula dreamed up by far-off experts.
  • Posted by anglianwater September 11, 2014 at 16:35

    In order to give as much security to rights holders as possible, it is important that regulatory processes should be transparent, based on robust evidence, predictable and open to challenge.

    While an absolutely secure permanent right to a specific volume of water is unachievable, but it is critical that the reform proposals ensure water property rights are as secure as possible. The less secure are the property rights over water, the more likely it will be that investment in essential infrastructure will not be forthcoming, and that trade of water rights and other forms of commercial exchange which will realize economic value will be discouraged.

    In particular, we believe that under a reformed system licences should be designed to avoid the need to alter the rights which are granted by them. Specifically, licence conditions should specify parameters which do not need to be changed in order to vary the amount of water that is allowed to be taken under the licence. On these grounds there would be advantages to the Water Shares option, because the right to a share of available water (in a particular reliability pool) seems less likely to need to be changed than the volume limits which are defined in a Hands-Off-Flow (HOF) licence condition.
  • Posted by abstractionreform September 24, 2014 at 13:55

    These are interesting comments.

    Giving the Environment Agency discretion in when to apply restrictions allows them to ensure they are getting the level of environmental protection right as well as targeting the right abstractions. This links to our other discussion thread about getting the right level of environmental protection during a drought:[…]/protecting-the-environment
  • Posted by SouthStaffsWater October 09, 2014 at 13:20

    In order to ensure we can operate flexibly enough to allow for outage and maintain our duty to supply in unconstrained or managed conditions, PWS should not be restricted from utilizing abstraction licences or water allowances, and indeed will work closely with environmental regulators to balance use to minimize environmental impacts – however some impacts may become necessary in order to maintain supplies following appropriate demand management interventions, customer restrictions and supply enhancement options in a serious drought. How much of this is managed by the regulator and how much by water companies will need to be clear so that PWS can plan accordingly.
  • Posted by DCWW October 10, 2014 at 10:43

    We support the comments made by ‘anglianwater’. Abstraction restrictions should be transparent and evidence based. This will not only benefit the environment in terms of having licence conditions that reflect the local water body and ecology, but it will also enable the abstractors to make realistic and well informed plans for drought when restrictions are applied.
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