A major new water pipeline is being planned from Norwich to Ludham to replace drinking supplies which will be lost due to environmental concerns in the Broads.

Eastern Daily Press: The Broadland village of Ludham in Norfolk. Picture: James BassThe Broadland village of Ludham in Norfolk. Picture: James Bass (Image: Archant Norfolk © 2014)

Anglian Water (AW) is preparing for the loss of some of its abstraction rights after the Environment Agency's review of water licences in the Ant Valley, where conservationists say rare fen habitats are drying out, threatening their protected habitats and wildlife.

That process has angered farmers, who have been told they may lose the groundwater they rely on for irrigating high-value crops like salads and potatoes – but it will also revoke the water company licence which supplies homes in the village of Ludham.

AW says it has agreed to stop this abstraction 'to make sure we continue to protect the environment' and is planning a new pipeline to move water from Norwich instead to make up the deficit.

Details of the intended route and cost of the pipeline are not yet known, but an AW spokesman said this 'substantial project' would be completed by the time the current licence ends in 2021, adding: 'We are certainly not in the realms of people turning on their taps and water not coming out.'

Although there is likely to be disruption to landowners, communities and road users during the pipeline construction, AW says every effort will be made to minimise the impact of the construction work, and more details of the plans will be released during the coming months.

With many other natural areas under the legal protection of EU environmental directives, conservationists say other Norfolk communities could also lose access to abstracted water in the future.

AW's long-term resilience planning includes investing £500m on a new network of interlinking pipes to move water from wetter areas in North Lincolnshire to the driest parts of East Anglia in the east and south. The first phase of this work is due to start later this year.

READ MORE: 'This will reduce our income by £80,000 a year' - Broadland farmers' concerns over water licence threatThe AW spokesman said: 'This kind of work is indicative of types of challenges we can expect to face in a future with a fast-growing population in the driest part of the country. It's why our proposed investment into water resources planning looks decades into the future to balance the needs of our customers and the wider environment.'

Mike Flett, chairman of Ludham Parish Council, said the council had not been made aware of the changes to the water supply, so it has not yet been able to discuss the implications of the proposed pipeline. But he said the needs of Ludham's 1,000 residents should be the top priority when balancing the competing water demands of agriculture, people and the environment.

'My personal view is that the domestic need has to be balanced in favour of the residents – quite frankly I would have put that higher than all other requirements,' he said.

'Second would come farming, with the requirement to provide food. Farming is obviously very important here, but not necessarily growing crops that require huge quantities of water.

'Sadly, I would say the environment comes third. The environment is certainly important, but not at the expense of people in the area, in my view.

'Something has to give somewhere if water supplies are to be protected.'

READ MORE: 'The Broads are being destroyed before our eyes', says Catfield Fen campaignerOne conservationist who takes the opposite view is Tim Harris, a landowner who won a landmark eight-year legal battle to protect Catfield Fen from agricultural abstraction – the opening salvo in what he now describes as the 'water war' between farmers and conservationists in the Broads.

He said: 'Everyone agrees that the Ant Valley contains the finest valley fens in western Europe.

'It is like the Westminster Abbey of nature. It makes absolutely no sense to destroy Westminster Abbey for the sake of a 15pc profit margin for farmers who can grow wheat and barley [without irrigation] rather than potatoes and salads – which is what they were growing here until 1980 anyway.

'And for the water companies to resolve their supply issue it is purely a matter of financial investment to bring in water from elsewhere.

'This is not just restricted to the Ant Valley. I would be very surprised if the Waveney and the Wensum are not having the same issue.'

Meanwhile, the National Farmers' Union's water resources specialist Paul Hammett called for 'equitable treatment' for Norfolk farmers, and adequate time to install alternatives to threatened water sources.

'We understand that Anglian Water has known for several years that this licence would be lost and has rightly been given time to make alternative arrangements in this area,' he said. 'However, farmers, who abstract a small minority of total water in the Broads, have only been given a few months' notice that their licences are going to be revoked.'

'We want to see equitable treatment for the farmers who grow our food. They deserve adequate time to install alternative measures before the loss of their original water supply.'

An Environment Agency spokesman said: 'The Environment Agency requires water companies to have robust plans in place, including identifying alternative water sources, to ensure there is sufficient water for public supplies, industry and agriculture.'