UK Government Takes Step in The Right Direction for Hard-pressed Rivers

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Today, WWF-UK, The Angling Trust and RSPB welcomed confirmation that Government will reform the water abstraction licence regime, the national system that approves water being taken out of the environment for use by the public, businesses and farms. Dominic Gogol, Water Policy Manager, WWF-UK, said: “Our rivers and their inhabitants are under increasing pressure due to the amount of water taken out of our rivers.  To its credit, the Government has listened to the serious concerns we have raised, and brought forward proposals to reform our outdated water abstraction regime.

“The government now needs to turn warm words into action.  It should act now to legislate for an abstraction system that is resilient to climate change and a growing population while continuing to serve our businesses and communities.”

In a report released today, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs set out its ambition to create ‘a sustainable and resilient water sector that promotes economic growth whilst protecting the environment’. The key improvements in the report that WWF, RSPB and the Angling Trust want the Government to deliver are:

  • Linking the amount taken out of rivers and groundwater to the availability of water in them. This includes a new charging system which encourages innovation and efficient water use between abstractors to increase our water resilience;
  • Guaranteed protection for the environment, particularly when water levels are low, with local river management in place with rules tailored to reflect the needs and sensitivity of each catchment.

    Our organisations welcome the principles of what is proposed, and we will work with the Department to turn those principles into appropriate practice, and particularly to ensure that abstraction controls incorporate minimum flows set to protect and improve the environment.  We now urge the Government to bring forward a Water Bill in the Queen’s Speech to turn these sensible proposals into law.

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal, said: “Low flows and unnatural flow regimes damage fish stocks by increasing temperatures, lowering oxygen content, concentrating pollutants, reducing feeding areas, hindering migration and increasing vulnerability of fish to predation.  Our organisations have campaigned vigorously for reform of abstraction for many years and so we are pleased to see this announcement at last.

“We will really celebrate when we see more water in our rivers, lakes and wetlands.  These reforms need to be complemented with changes to the management of farmland to allow more water to soak into the soil and re-charging aquifers, rather than running off causing floods and pollution.”

Simon Wightman, Water Policy Officer, RSPB said: “We are pleased that the Government is taking much needed steps to reform an abstraction regime that has resulted in damage to many of our rivers and groundwater fed wetlands. Whilst the ambition is certainly welcome, the big challenge to come will be turning this into effective legislation that drives improvements in water use efficiency and ensures our water environment can cope with the extremes of flooding and drought that are predicted to become more frequent as a result of a changing climate.”