ADA has continued to raised significant concerns (see ADA News 11.06.2016 and 03.11.2017) about the process and charging proposed for water transfer licencing under new water abstraction regulations. These regulations, which came into force from 1 January 2018, remove exemptions for a number of activities. Amongst these changes is a requirement for transfers of water from main rivers into internal drainage districts to be licenced by the Environment Agency. Using information gathered from IDBs by ADA the Environment Agency has estimated that around 150 licences will be required collectively by IDBs each costing £1,500. This will add an expense and bureaucratic burden that will inhibit effective close working between risk management authorities on water resources and environmental management.
At the ADA Conference, Environment Minister Dr Thérèse Coffey confirmed that she wants IDBs to play a central role as Defra plan for better local and national water management. Dr Coffey emphasised that “land drainage activities to prevent flooding and IDB abstractions within drainage districts will remain exempt” and she went on to assure delegates that she will be looking at “effective funding streams to recover your costs from those that benefit, and I would like to work with you to make sure that this happens.”
To investigate the proposal for cost recovery made by the Minister an initial meeting took place on 22 January in Peterborough involving the Environment Agency, Defra, ADA, Natural England and IDB representatives. A number of potential options were identified including enabling primary legislation. Further meetings will be required to narrow down the options available that could enable IDBs to recover costs from the beneficiaries of their water resource management activities. It is essential that any changes are acceptable to all parties concerned.
In the meantime, IDBs should have received a letter from the Environment Agency urging them to take early action in applying for licences between now and June 2018. ADA notes, however, that the legal timeframe for IDBs to apply for and enter into new licensing arrangements is two years, closing on 31 December 2019.
IDBs should use this window to investigate this new regulatory burden with the Environment Agency highlighting the importance of water transfers into IDB systems to mitigate environmental damage such as anoxic conditions during dry spells and damage to designated environmental sites. Transfers that facilitate Environment Agency flood risk management operations should also be highlighted. We have been able to obtain clarification that multiple intakes operated by an IDB from one river source will only require a single transfer licence and this comes in addition to a previous clarification that inter-IDB transfers do not require a separate licence. However, it remains unclear whether water flowing into an IDB system as part of a fish pass at a control structure will also require a water transfer licence where this is greater than 20 cubic metres of water per day.
ADA hopes that a consensus on a pragmatic, light-touch administrative solution can be reached over the next few months which may alter the circumstances where IDBs need to apply for and pay for licences.
If IDBs have any specific questions regarding the process and charges they should contact the Environment Agency. Please contact the ADA office for further assistance and to keep us updated on this policy issue.