Getting the Balance Right

Since the 1912 Royal Commission, pollution of waterbodies has been recognised as an evil which has to be controlled to protect water quality. The subsequent actions of a series of Governments, Regulators and Dischargers have significantly reduced the environmental impact of pollution. It is still rightly perceived as a major threat by most people.

In comparison abstraction is rarely perceived as a threat to the environment and water quantity rarely features in the popular perception of environmental needs. It s a key component of the Good Ecological Status required by the Water Framework Directive but Defra and Environemnt Agency WFD focus is largely on water quality. Where pollution occurs, whatever the source, dilution is a key component of its alleviation. Adequate river flow is vital to maintaining biodiversity, fisheries, stable water temperatures, natural hydromorphology.

At the same time, water is a key component of the needs of a developed economy - the membership of the Abstraction Advisory Group reflects this, with 17 members representing abstractors and only one representing environmental interests.

Abstraction regulation reform must find the right balance between these two conflicting needs and it is at times of drought that the greatest conflict occurs. The predicted effects of climate change and predicted population growth will combine to increase the frequency of this conflict and getting drought management right will be an important component of more effective abstraction regulation. For most people droughts are the only time they think about the importance of natural water resources and the connection between the natural water environment and their own lives.

My ideas for more effective drought management are:

  1. A fundamental change in the establishment view of abstraction, positioning it alongside pollution as a threat to the environment;
  2. A sustained public information campaign on the importance of environmental water quantity with a focus on the adverse impact of droughts and our use of water;
  3. Application of the Abstractor Pays principle alongside the Polluter Pays principle (see 4, 6 and 7 below);
  4. A better reflection in the abstraction charging regime of the adverse environmental consequences of abstraction during times (droughts) and in areas (CAMS over-abstracted) of water stress - rising block tariffs are a good starting point;
  5. The imposition of mandatory Hands Off Flows on all abstractions, set at levels which deliver or protect Good Ecological Status;
  6. The development of winter storage to enable Hands Off Flows to be protected and damaging abstractions stopped, ranging from major Water Company regulating reservoirs to on-farm irrigation lakes, paid for by the abstractors;
  7. If licence trading is introduced, environmental requirements are given equal weight to the needs of the licence purchaser;

Why the contribution is important

Numbers refer to those above:

  1. Growing pressure on natural water resources at a time of climate change, economic  and population growth poses as great a threat to the environment as pollution, and that threat is at its greatest in times of drought;
  2. Political will, regulatory action and public behaviour tend to go hand in hand and public understanding of the issues is a key component - education sitting alongside economic and regulatory devices;
  3. It is fundamental that the cost of alleviating any environmentally damaging activities is met by those causing the damage;
  4. The economics of natural water, treating it as a low-value commodity, are seriously outdated, and reform would bring benefits to the environment and enable more effective economic regulation of the water industry, eg by changing the economics of leakage control;
  5. The concept of Hands Off Flows and Minimum Acceptable Flows has been around for many years but still applied patchily - the Reform of Abstraction Control is an opportunity to rectify this;
  6. With the anticpated impact of climate change, economic and population growth, the only way to balance the needs of the environment and abstractors,especially at times of drought, is to capture the anticipated higher winter rainfall for use in the drier summer months. Without this, Drought Orders which adversely impact on the environment and abstractors, will become more frequent.
  7. Licence trading, with the main objective of exploiting 'unused' licensed quantities, will increase overall abstraction, with the greatest adverse environmental impact at times of drought, unless balanced by regulation to limit the use of the traded licences by the imposition of Hands Off Flows and charges which reflect environmental needs.

by rfurnissswra on October 07, 2014 at 10:07AM

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