Eastern England’s irrigation strategy wins international award

An international award has been presented for promoting water-saving irrigation schemes and farm reservoirs in eastern England.

Melvyn Kay, of the UK Irrigation Association and Cranfield University's Centre for Water Science, have won the prestigious WatSave 2010 Technology Award at a ceremony in Indonesia.

The International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage recognises outstanding examples of water conservation and water saving around the world.

The winning project, proposed and funded by the Environment Agency, encouraged farmers and landowners in eastern England to store surplus water in winter for use in the summer.

Although this was not new technology, the ICID noted that the efforts of 'water professionals campaigning for farmers to invest in storage on their own land was worthy of award'.

'The construction of on-farm reservoirs has provided the water security essential to achieve timely production of high quality food that reduces water wastage from field to plate,' said the citation, which also noted the efforts of Dr Keith Weatherhead and Dr Jerry Knox, of Cranfield University.

After looking at problems faced in building and designing reservoirs plus the legal and regulatory framework, a booklet was written, 'Thinking about an irrigation reservoir?'

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The research by backed by groups including Natural England, the East of England Development Agency and farming groups.

Last year, the Environment Agency funded Cranfield and the UKIA to promote investment in on-farm storage and an advisory booklet was sent to 2,500 farmers and agri-food businesses in the eastern region.

The ICID awards recognised that over the past year that 18 applications have been made for grant funding reservoirs involving private investment of more than �6m. A total of 11 schemes have now been approved, three are in the pipeline, and a further four are under consideration.

Eastern England is short of water with 75pc of the total volume of water licensed for irrigation from catchments under stress in summer months.

Mr Kay, who was not able to fly out to accept the award, said that winter-filled reservoirs provide an assured supply for summer irrigation. As this frees summer flows for domestic and environmental purposes, it is a 'win-win' situation.

The challenge was how to encourage farmers to take up this option because they have often found too many obstacles in their way and construction costs often outweighed the short-term benefits.

Eeda's lead in 2006 produced a water strategy for eastern England.

In 2009 the Environment Agency published its water resources strategy for England and Wales which promotes a twin-track approach for making best use of existing water resources and encouraging investment in developing new resources by constructing on-farm storage.