Controlling all water users

As water resources become more stretched to what extent should all water users be required to reduce their use equally?

Why the contribution is important

We proposed in our consultation that all abstractors who do not currently have controls linked to flows should have controls at very low flows.  This was accepted by many although there were concerns about the level at which they would be set.  This would apply across all sectors.

Currently about 20% of all abstractors have flow controls (known as hands off flows) on their licences.  At present section 57 restrictions only apply to spray irrigators and have not been applied that often (see the supporting information for more information).  So putting flow controls on all abstractors would be a significant change but maybe it is reasonable for all abstractors to make some effort to save water (e.g. managing with a 10% cut).  Early action by all to save water could reduce the need later for more drastic cuts.

In the reformed abstraction management system trading in some catchments would allow abstractors who find cutting their water use difficult to access extra water.

by abstractionreform on September 05, 2014 at 10:53AM

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  • Posted by anglianwater September 11, 2014 at 16:31

    It is reasonable to establish a low flow control that applies equally to all abstractors, but the minimum level should be based as far as possible on robust scientific evidence. Our experience has shown that in many instances generic flow targets are inappropriate and that such a precautionary approach can lead to a potentially disproportionate impact on abstractors. It should also be established in collaboration with stakeholders, so that the trade-offs between environmental protection and the impacts on abstractors can be understood.

    Thought is required to understand how this proposal would interact with the system of drought management. For example, during severe droughts, it is currently possible for a water company to apply for a drought permit, in some instances, to amend licence conditions to help secure public water supplies. How would the low flow control work if a water company needed to apply for a drought permit?

    Applying a low flow control equally to all abstractors will help to standardise rights, which in turn will facilitate trading. The Australian experience demonstrates that markets have been more successful where there are a few different categories of standardised rights, because this makes them readily exchangeable.
  • Posted by KeithWeatherhead October 01, 2014 at 15:44

    You will need to think much more carefully about what you mean by seemingly simple phrases like "reducing water use equally" and "a 10% cut"

    Is that a cut in the annual volume, the daily maximum volume, or the peak flow rate? How would it impact on abstractors who aren't using their peak flow rate at that particular time of year, for example? The resulting reductions may be far less than 10%.

    Many abstractors are constrained by their annual volume limits rather than shorter term limits. A 10% cut in annual volume might not reduce their abstraction during a short drought period.

    Metering arrangements are set to record cumulative volumes rather than instantaneous rates, so enforcement of peak flow rates may be expensive.

    Moreover, the flow rate may be set to match particular equipment or the pump, and a lower rate might not be workable at all.
  • Posted by SouthStaffsWater October 09, 2014 at 13:30

    PWS companies rely on a surplus in available supplies to meet peak demands in dry aquifer conditions. If additional flow controls were made on PWS these would need to be built into the headroom for Water resources planning, and may drive expenditure in supply options that are in frequently used, at a cost to our customers, and this is likely to be unaccepatble.
  • Posted by CCWater October 09, 2014 at 14:37

    There needs to be a proportionate response to reducing the volume of water that water users are allowed to abstract from the environment. What factors would be used to calculate the level of the reduction? For example, would these reductions reflect:

    • The volume of water abstracted? Should reductions be in absolute or relative terms?

    • The condition of the source where the abstractions are taking place?

    • The volume of water that is returned to the environment (as close as possible to the abstraction point) as a proportion of the volume abstracted?
    • Would the reductions have a seasonal component and take into account weather/climate variations/flows?

    We feel that further consideration should be given to these issues.
  • Posted by DCWW October 10, 2014 at 10:45

    Subject to the overarching need to maintain public supplies, it is reasonable to propose that all water users should be required to reduce their use equally. However, in assessing what such a restriction should look like there is a need to ensure that detailed environmental assessments have been undertaken in the relevant catchments, rather than basing limits on environmental flow indicators only which we have demonstrated through several detailed environmental investigations are often overly stringent and do not provide an optimum flow regime for the ecology of rivers.

    It should be recognised that all the water resource planning and drought planning we carry out as a public water supply company, is based on the current level of licence capability and conditions held by the company. Any changes to such conditions would have implications for our supply capability and would require a reassessment of our water system yields which would then be fed back into our water resource and drought planning processes.
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