ARCHIVE: Abstraction licensing policy
- Recent Consultations - now closed
- Abstraction licensing - background
- Non-legislative changes
- Legislative changes
- Water Framework Directive
The Defra and Welsh Assembly Government consultation on the removal and creation of various exemptions from licence control has now closed. The proposed new Regulations to bring these proposals into force will implement the remaining abstraction provisions of the Water Act 2003. Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government jointly published their summary of responses to the consultation on implementing the abstraction elements of the Water Act 2003. Government will now consider the responses and the issues that have been raised. The Government Response will be published prior to the implementation of new regulations.
The Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government consultation on proposals for mandatory time limiting of water abstraction licences in England and Wales has now closed. Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government jointly published their summary of response to this consultation. Government will now consider further the responses to the consultation and the issues that have been raised in deciding how to develop further the proposals to time limit water abstraction licences. The Government will produce a response to the consultation which will set out how it intends to progress any proposals.
One of the ways that the Environment Agency manages water resources is through a system of issuing licences for abstracting water, which they have had in place since the 1960s. Their duties include the regulation of water abstraction from sources of supply including rivers, lakes, canals and underground sources through a system of licensing, to minimise damage to the environment.
In May 1997 the Government held a Water Summit with water companies, the Environment Agency and key stakeholders. The most important point from the Summit, in terms of water resources, was that there should be a review of the abstraction licensing system. After more than 35 years, problems had become apparent with the current licensing system, originally derived from the Water Resources Act 1963, for example over-licensing, licences issued in perpetuity and the need for flexibility given future uncertainties such as the effects of climate change.
Following the Water Summit, the Government issued a consultation paper The Review of the Water Abstraction Licensing System in England and Wales in June 1998 proposing a number of administrative and legislative changes to the water abstraction licensing system in England and Wales.
Taking Water Responsibly was published in March 1999, which announced the Government's decisions following the 1998 consultation. Many of the announced changes could be implemented within current legislation (Water Resources Act 1991 and Environment Act 1995), but others needed legislative changes.
The non-legislative changes that have been taken forward by the Environment Agency, following Taking Water Responsibly are below:
Restoring Sustainable Abstraction Programme
Following Taking Water Responsibly, the Government instructed the Environment Agency to use its powers to revoke damaging licences. The Restoring Sustainable Abstraction (RSA) Programme was set up by the Environment Agency in 1999 to identify and catalogue those sites which may be at risk from abstraction. The RSA programme is a way of prioritising and progressively examining and resolving these concerns. As part of this programme, the Agency has been investigating sites that are affected by the EC Habitats Directive, Sites of Specific Scientific Interest in addition to local sites.
Following Taking Water Responsibly it was decided that there should be a separate consultation concerning the application of economic instruments as a measure of abstraction control. The consultation paper Economic Instruments in Relation to Water Abstraction was issued in April 2000. The analysis of the responses to the consultation were published in Tuning Water Taking. The consultation addressed two main areas, which were water abstraction charges and abstraction licence trading.
Water rights trading is the transfer of licensable water rights from one party to another, for benefit. Under current legislation some water rights trading is possible, and the Water Act 2003 contains provisions that remove barriers to trading. The Environment Agency and Ofwat have undertaken a joint project to investigate the barriers to water rights trading and recommend options to overcome these barriers. The recommendations from this project were fed into the Cave Review of Competition in the Water Industry.
Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies
The Environment Agency has developed Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies. The Environment Agency launched the CAMS process in April 2001 for every catchment in England and Wales. CAMS provide a consistent and structured approach to local water resources management, recognising the reasonable needs of abstractors and the needs of the environment.
The legislative changes, recommended by Taking Water Responsibly were included in the Water Act 2003. The Act strengthens the Environment Agency's powers for the sustainable management of water resources. Key changes include:
- Time limits for all new abstraction licences
- Facility to revoke abstraction licences causing serious environmental damage without compensation
- Greater flexibility to raise or lower licensing thresholds
- Small and environmentally insignificant abstractions deregulated
- Licensing extended to abstractors of significant quantities presently outside the licensing system
- Water company drought plans and water resource management plans (both were produced voluntarily) became a statutory requirement.
The Water Resources (Abstraction and Impounding) Regulations 2006
These regulations, specify new procedural requirements in respect of the licensing of abstraction and impounding of water in England and Wales.
The Water Resources (Environmental Impact Assessment)( England and Wales)(Amendment) Regulations 2006 [SI 2006 No. 3124]
These regulations amend the Water Resources (Environmental Impact Assessment)(England and Wales) Regulations 2003 to transpose into law the requirements of the Public Participation Directive insofar as that Directive amends the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. The 2003 regulations apply to certain water management projects for agriculture which are subject to regulation under abstraction and impoundment controls.
- The Water Resources (Environmental Impact Assessment)( England and Wales)(Amendment) Regulations 2006 [SI 2006 No. 3124]
Changes to the abstraction and impounding regime through the Water Act 2003 will further our ability to meet the requirements of the Water Framework Directive.
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Page last modified: 05 February 2010
Page published 25 October 2005