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Immediate action on water resources says Lords Report

The Lords Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment EU Sub-Committee published it's report 'An Indispensable Resource: EU Freshwater Policy', in May, and said that planning for the future of our water resources is both necessary and urgent.

The report warned that in the UK, the governments need to act decisively and that water costs may have to rise, especially in areas of greater water scarcity. For this to be accepted, consumers must be made more aware of the value of water as a resource and to recognise the other ecosystem service benefits that freshwater bodies provide.

It said that the EU needs to encourage the development of national water scarcity and drought management plans.

On the UK Governments 'Water White Paper' – it said it was welcomed in principal, but that the date set (in the mid to late 2020s) for a new water abstraction regime fails to demonstrate the required urgency. Over 10% of rivers are currently abstracted to an extent that may damage water ecosystems so we need to act sooner rather than later.

The report praised the UK Government’s support of catchment management pilot schemes, to foster local involvement and said that they must secure the effective engagement of stakeholders. Planning for the future of our water resources must draw on the strengths of local involvement as well as the impulses of EU and national strategy.

Chair of the Committee, Lord Carter of Coles, said:

"The issue of water scarcity is becoming increasingly urgent. Having taken our water resources for granted for so long, we must start looking at ways in which we can protect the quality and availability of water resources in the face of challenges such as climate change and population growth.

Governments across the EU need to act decisively, and grasp the nettle of allowing the cost of water to rise where other measures fail to overcome water scarcity. Here in the UK, the Government cannot wait 15 years to reform the water abstraction regime when it is clear that over- abstraction is already doing ecological damage to more than one in 10 of our rivers.

And awareness of the dangers that are threatening a resource so vital to life must be at the heart of any and all efforts made by both the Government and the EU.

We welcome the Government's support of the 'catchment management' pilot schemes that are already running, which foster local involvement and will help to safeguard water resources. Price increases may well be an inevitable part of helping to secure our water supplies in the future.

If we are to ask people to pay more for this crucial resource in challenging economic times, we must ensure that they fully understand what they are paying extra for. They must feel connected to their local areas and know the benefits that freshwater lakes, rivers and streams provide to their local wildlife and ecosystems. Without the active involvement of local groups and individuals who know and care for the freshwater bodies where they live, we will struggle to rise to the challenge of ensuring proper protection of our water environment as an uncertain future unfolds." deucom/296/296.pdf


Government unveils draft water bill

Caroline Spelman MP, the Secretary of State for the department of environment, food and rural affairs, announced in a written ministerial statement the publication of the draft Water Bill for pre- legislative scrutiny.

The Draft Water Bill was published on the 10th July in Parliament heralding market reform, an innovation drive and a cutting of red tape in the UK water industry.

Under the proposals, which have been published for pre-legislative scrutiny, all businesses and public sector bodies in England will be able to switch their water and sewerage suppliers, allowing them to obtain more competitive prices, improve their efficiency and tender for services better suited to meet their individual needs. It is estimated that the benefits to the economy could be in the region of £2 billion over a 30 year period.

The legislation will also make it easier for bulk water trading within the industry, allowing water companies to work more closely to find long term solutions to water security issues.

The Bill will also make the costs of connecting new developments to the water and sewerage system more transparent.

The Bill will also extend the scope of the Environmental Permitting regime to include water abstraction and impounding licences, flood defence consents and fish pass approvals. And the frequency of drought planning will change to a five yearly cycle so that it aligns with other water planning cycles.

The benefits to developers and applications made for flood consents will be the reduction in red tape around environmental regulation and duplication with Environment Agency consent schemes .

Fish Pass approvals will also be included in the Environmental Permitting Regime, similar to that already included in the Eels regulations. Defra is looking at introducing further legislation for all fresh water fish to deliver its Water Framework Directive commitments. This will impact on the development of new dams as well as existing structures where existing fish passes may have to be altered to suit all species of migratory fish.

Whilst most of the draft Bill is aimed at at improving competitiveness and efficiency of the water industry, the abstraction regime clearly could have a great impact on agriculture. At present the government has resisted pressure for the draft Bill to include legislative proposals to reform the abstraction regime.

The draft Bill will now undergo a scrutiny process to ensure that both Parliament and stakeholders have the opportunity to comment before it is finalised for introduction into Parliament. The EFRA Committee is expected to hold an inquiry into the draft Bill and call for written evidence before holding public evidence sessions. Following the scrutiny process, the Water Bill will then be introduced into Parliament.

Further information on the draft Water Bill is available from the Defra website:

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