Government announces proposals for water abstraction reform

Defra and the Welsh Government have set out its proposals for water abstraction reform in its statement ‘UK Government response to consultation on reforming the Water Abstraction Management System’.

The proposals focus on the management of surface water at the catchment scale and are in response to Defra’s 2014 consultation, ‘Making the most of every drop’. Defra plans to introduce a new abstraction management system from the early 2020s by replacing current abstraction licences with new permits. Permitted volumes will not be the same as current licensed volumes but will be based on abstractors’ past peak usage ‘over the past 10 years’, and so ‘unused headroom’ will be removed.

Previously the transfer of water into an Internal Drainage District has been an exempt activity. However the proposals do not include for such an exemption to continue once the provisions within the Water Act 2003 are commenced. ADA is concerned that removing such an exemption would hinder IDBs’ ability to manage water levels within their districts and meet their environmental duties in the exercise of their functions under the Land Drainage Act 1991, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and as competent authorities under the Habitats Regulations.

ADA is meeting with Defra staff shortly to better understand the proposals implications for IDBs and other risk management authorities and will be responding to the consultation before the 8 April 2016 deadline.

For farmers and growers the NFU has a more detailed article on the implications of abstraction reform at

The Defra/Welsh Government consultation on Changes to water abstraction licensing exemptions in England and Wales: New Authorisations can be found at: