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East Suffolk will be a pilot area for Defra water abstraction plan

PUBLISHED: 15:51 02 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:51 02 January 2018

Crops being irrigated in Suffolk. Picture: Phil Morley

Crops being irrigated in Suffolk. Picture: Phil Morley

Archant

Water resources for farmers in East Suffolk will be under the national spotlight this year after the area was selected as one of four pilot catchments for a new government plan.

Paul Hammett, water expert from the National Farmers' Union. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown Paul Hammett, water expert from the National Farmers' Union. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

The water plan confirms how Defra will make use of existing regulatory powers and describes the latest approaches to reforming the abstraction licencing regime for agricultural irrigation.

NFU (National Farmers’ Union) water resources specialist Paul Hammett said it is fitting that the pilot scheme should feature the Suffolk Coastal constituency of MP Therese Coffey, the environment minister whose responsibilities include floods, water and waterways.

“In selecting East Suffolk, the government is clearly keen to build on existing momentum developed over the past five years, where local interest groups have been working together on ways to cope with both flooding events and long spells of dry weather,” he said.

“The aim is to harness this partnership approach and develop site-specific solutions to existing pressures.

“Through their local abstractor group East Suffolk Water Abstractors Group (ESWAG), farmers are already working with Suffolk County Council, the Environment Agency and others to identify and implement measures to manage water for environmental, water resource and flood risk management purposes. Opportunities for shared reservoir storage are being explored as well.

“At the same time, Anglian Water is looking at opportunities in the Deben catchment to recharge the aquifer during the winter and then sell the treated water to farmers during the irrigation season.

“It will be interesting to see how much of a boost can be given to these projects by their recognition in a national plan.”

Mr Hammett said the NFU welcomed the plan’s focus on partnership working at local level, and would be keen to test the proposed catchment plan approach to abstraction licensing, to establish whether it can deliver more water for food production.

“The government wants to support the rapid trading of water between users where it is needed most, to allow abstractors to share access to water quickly, and it will be interesting to see if this idea will fly in practice,” he said.

“The plan will allow some winter abstractors to take water at the highest flows in the summer to boost the use of stored water – surely a sensible use of surface freshwater that would otherwise just run out to sea.

“The plan includes some innovative ideas for sharing real-time information on river flows and forecast changes to help abstractors plan their water use. “The government’s original intention was to deliver abstraction reform through an act of Parliament, but that idea has been kicked into the long grass because of the business of Brexit.

“For those of us who expected to be examining legally drafted documents designed to deliver abstraction reform by now, the lower key and voluntary approach signalled by the abstraction plan seems attractive.

“Let’s hope that real progress can be made over the next few years to deliver a secure supply of water to farmers, so they can grow our food.”

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