Prioritising Water Use

Do you agree certain essential public water supply uses should be prioritised?  If so, what are they? Are there other sectors whose abstractions should be prioritised and if so, why?

Why the contribution is important

There are probably some uses of water most people would consider of highest importance.  Public water supply is essential for services such as domestic water use, sanitation, fire protection and other services that protect and preserve public health, welfare, and safety. 

Water companies must prepare and maintain drought plans (see the supporting information for more information).  These set out how water companies will continue to meet their duties to supply adequate quantities of drinking water during drought periods while protecting the environment.  The plans contain a series of trigger points for action by the companies. The actions taken depend on the severity of the drought and include such measures as restrictions on non-essential use.

At the moment there are controls at low flows that apply specifically to certain abstractors:

  • Section 57 imposes restrictions on spray irrigators abstracting from rivers and some groundwater; this has not been used often in the last decade;
  • About 20% of abstractors have flow cessation conditions (known as hands off flows) on their licences; and
  • All other abstractors can have their abstraction restricted by drought orders; these have never been used.  People who suffer loss or damage as a result of a drought order are entitled to claim compensation.

by abstractionreform on September 05, 2014 at 10:55AM

Current Rating

Average rating: 0.0
Based on: 0 votes


  • Posted by cfenn September 10, 2014 at 14:09

    Prioritisation = agreeing, setting and applying principles (rules) for allocating scarce resources between competing users to maximise (fully- and fairly-valued) benefits, overall.
    To work, who-gets-what pecking rights would need to be:
    (a) agreed in advance (not when the crunch starts);
    (b) agreed for different levels of scarcity (because the order and the (volumetric) entitlements of different users will vary as water availability declines, and as the need for and value of water allocations increases, but differently between different users. It would be preposterous, for example, to give a first priority and/or a fixed volume entitlement to (say) domestic consumption, without regard to the level of consumption, and to the relative impacts/benefits of allocation to different users (including the environment), under those conditions and terms;
    (c) revised from time to time, to remain fair and fit for purpose as things change, and as more information becomes available
    (d) etc.

    Prioritisation is essential. But not dumb prioritisation. We need smart allocation agreements to deal with drought, with variation in the rules to cope with changing needs and benefits as drought develops. And we need these for deep droughts, in particular. We got away with it in 2012, but ...

    It's a tough challenge that needs sensitive consideration at resource unit scale by all interested parties, working co-operatively and impartially.
  • Posted by colinwest September 11, 2014 at 15:37

    Medical use, including hospital use and medicine manufacture, should rank as a high priority. Food processing similarly. Agree that early and transparent prioritisation - before the drought - would be valuable to all users and would minimise the economic consequences.
  • Posted by anglianwater September 11, 2014 at 16:34

    Given that PWS accounts for over 50% of the water abstracted in England and Wales (and in some areas considerably more than this), in order for the reforms to achieve their objectives, it is important that water companies are not shielded from their impacts. In normal conditions, water for PWS should not be prioritised above water for other uses. For example, HOFs can be applied to water companies; the majority of Anglian Water’s surface water licences already have a HOF condition, and this is something that we manage as part of our day-to-day operations.

    However, water companies have a legal obligation to meet demand for treated water supplies, and this obligation will continue to exist in the reformed system. It is important that they are able to continue to meet this obligation in the reformed system, particularly during a drought situation.

    It is appropriate that, in exceptional circumstances, (for example, a drought that is unprecedented in terms of its severity / longevity and is outside the scope of normal drought planning) water for essential human needs it prioritised above water for other uses. In the reformed system, this prioritisation could take the form of drought permits and drought orders, as in the current system.
  • Posted by abstractionreform September 24, 2014 at 13:41

    These comments are thought-provoking and helpful.

    It seems that everyone agrees some form of prioritisation would be required in exceptional circumstances and that essential services are of priority.

    Cfenn you believe prioritisation is essential, do you think the current system is not fit for purpose?
  • Posted by SWW September 29, 2014 at 11:39

    Is there a danger with the current market creation proposals of a system being developing whereby in exceptional cicumstances the market would be determining the priority between PWS, power supply, agriculture?

    Some form of market intervention will therefore be required. Outside of such critical periods water will have less value, so is opening of a market a viable solution?
  • Posted by nfomes September 30, 2014 at 10:07

    Some degree of background awareness, notice, or consultation might be helpful for the groups that are lower priority. Especially for smaller abstractors/ entities receiving water from a third party.

    Non-essential uses - especially businesses could be encouraged to innovate/ plan/ insure for exceptional droughts rather than blindly assuming water will be available and as a result losing revenue.
  • Posted by krussell October 03, 2014 at 16:39

    Is it fair and reasonable that someone who is affected by a Drought Order should be able to claim statutory compensation? Or, in the 21st century, is this an area where there should be discussions with the insurance industry about developing insurance products for businesses who may be affected in this way?

    If a reasonable alternative to statutory compensation was available, such as an affordable insurance policy, then it might be possible to consider revoking the statutory right to compensation, which might in turn mean that regulators felt more able to use that tool without fear of economic consequences.
  • Posted by WNE October 06, 2014 at 17:07

    surely, with a revised system all abstraction would be treated equally and fairly and no prioritization of use is needed. if prioritization is needed, the revised system clearly has not worked as intended.
  • Posted by EnergyUK October 08, 2014 at 16:27

    Any water resource allocation system provides a de facto prioritisation when water resource is scarce. We agree that the desired prioritisation should be a factor in the design of the new water resource allocation principles. We believe consider that there should be an appropriate prioritisation of scarce water resource to the electricity generation sector since because if power plant are unable to abstract there is inevitable loss of generation capability. Prioritisation can be achieved through a variety of mechanisms such as Hands Off Flows (in Defra’s proposed Current System Plus regime) or reliability pools (in the proposed Water Shares regime) by which the priority or value society puts on existing uses, including allocation for environmental protection, can be explored.

    It is vital to design from the outset the scope for overridinge of such ‘business as usual’ mechanisms. Without such a clear definition it is impossible for an abstractor desiring access to water at times of water scarcity to understand the risks and value associated with water rights held and those associated with acquisition of additional rights. Such uncertainty may provide a barrier to further additional investment in existing water- dependent assets and investment in new assets.

    In many cases, the abstractor or would- be investor may be delivering a priority service. In the case of power plant, that could be the provision of energy or the provision of capacity to generate. Much of the current fleet of power plant requires access to water to generate and this would be expected to be the case for the future fleet. Since As security of electricity supply is provided by the fleet as a whole, whether or not a particular plant or subset of plant is essential to ensure security of supply in a given set of circumstances depends on wider electricity market considerations. However, in the case of the electricity generation sector, a clear case for additional priority compared with to other users or normal allocation to the environment may be the approach to a System Stress Event (as defined in the Electricity Market Reform package.)
  • Posted by SouthStaffsWater October 09, 2014 at 13:24

    Essential public water supplies should definitely be prioritised, and PWS companies require certain flexibility in available abstractions in order to maintain quality to customers and reliable supplies without interruption. However under normal flow regimes, PWS should be treated equally within their planned headroom. In times of low flow and resource shortgae, PWS already plays a major part in reducing demands to protect supplies, and all abstractors should do similar. As flows worsen, PWS can not be put a risk of failure and should reserve some additional protection or allowance to abstract to meet customer demands.
  • Posted by CCWater October 09, 2014 at 14:34

    Water companies have a statutory duty to provide a water supply for domestic purposes, while encouraging their customers to use water efficiently by providing adequate information and (where applicable) measures to achieve a reduction in their water use.

    Research consistently shows that customers’ top priority is a safe, reliable supply of water. As such, it is vital to continue to meet customers’ (household and non-household) needs and expectations. This is further supported by water company research into their customers’ investment priorities for the 2014 price review.

    As abstraction reform is considered, we feel that Governments (England and Wales) must reflect water company customers’ (household and non-household) views and priorities on the best way to provide resilient, reliable supplies.
  • Posted by dbellamy October 09, 2014 at 17:37

    The Food and Drink Federation agrees on the need for prioritisation of abstractors if any reductions in allocation are to be made during periods of drought. Any decision to impose restrictions will impact significantly on the ability of food and drink manufacturers to operate and will have broader ramifications for our national food security. Most food and drink manufacturing businesses are run as 24/7 operations and require access to a constant supply of water all year round for a range of non- discretionary uses, such as preparation, production and cleaning. As such most of these businesses currently hold high reliability licenses allowing them to abstract water under both high and low flow conditions. The current ability for the EA to introduce mandatory requirements to stop abstraction is limited. We would not wish to see any extension of these powers.
  • Posted by DCWW October 10, 2014 at 10:37

    Public water supply is an essential service on which our customers are totally reliant and so must be prioritised over other uses. Having said that we accept that during droughts measures should be taken to ensure that customers use water wisely and, if needs be, to restrict non-essential uses. That is why under the current drought planning system, uses of public water supply can be restricted in the first instance through temporary use bans (TUBS), and as the drought gets more severe via drought orders and emergency drought orders. So the mechanisms already exist to implement restrictions on public water supply uses and set out priorities for which uses are restricted first. These restrictions are set out in water company drought plans, which are subject to a public consultation process. These existing processes should be recognized in the reformed system.
  • Posted by RacecourseAssociation October 10, 2014 at 17:23

    The Racecourse Association would like to acknowledge that, whilst periods of drought may require reduced levels of abstraction and the drive to make sure that water is used responsibly, industries such as ours rely heavily on the availability of water and restrictions to availability can have a serious impact.

    Particularly in summer months, racecourses often require a reliable water source, as a means by which to maintain the highest possible standards of human and animal welfare. An inability to provide this (which a lack of available water may lead to) may cause abandonment of race meetings.

    Such incidents have ramifications well beyond the immediate impact of an abandoned race meeting, across the racing industry as a whole and across the rural and national economy as well.

    The RCA would certainly be happy to discuss these issues further should it be required.
Log in or register to add comments and rate ideas