In our Water Resources Strategy 2015 we identified some of the pressures on our water resources including new environmental legislation with the potential to reduce our water availability in the future. The Water Resources Act 1991 (Section 26) controls the abstraction and impoundment of water in England and Wales. This legislation was updated in November 2003 by the Water Act 2003 (c.37 Section 5) and several key changes were made to the licensing system. Some of these have been enacted and others were still awaiting a commencement order.
One of the main changes that will impact on us is the removal of the exemption for surface water transfers into canals. This change is now imminent with the two-year abstraction licence application window opening on 1 January 2018.
The Environment Agency (EA) and Natural Resources Wales will then have three years to determine the applications. In doing so, there is a risk that a number of our existing abstractions will have conditions placed upon them that will restrict the quantities of water we can abstract, driven by the Water Framework Directive and other legislation to protect the environment.
With over 250 potential licences we are expecting to apply for, this will have a major impact on our future water availability. Progress on the application process and licence determination will be provided in future Water Resource Strategy Annual Updates.