Dairy farmers abstracting water may see changes to cost as 12-week consultation is launched

Dairy farmers abstracting water from the environment, including boreholes, could face changes to the amount they are charged after the Environment Agency launched a consultation today (18 August).

The consultation will review and update the way businesses are charged for water abstraction licences with the aim to help manage and protect water resources.

Currently, all businesses are required to have an abstraction licence to take more than 20 cubic metres a day from a river, stream, canal or groundwater.

The new proposed charges – which have not changed for the past 10 years – will be based on:
· The volume of water taken from the environment

· Where the water is taken from

· How much of that water is returned to the environment

Under the proposals, around 45% of abstractors will see their annual charges decrease and 55% will see an increase. Overall, three quarters (75%) of all abstractors will see either a decrease or an increase of less than £100 in their charges.

New applicants will also see a higher initial application fee, in line with those charged for other permitting regimes.

The Environment Agency says the changes will allow them to invest more in upgrading infrastructure assets to move water around the country, using data to improve local management of water resources and protecting water-stressed catchments such as chalk streams.

Farmers affected should receive a letter from the Environment Agency this week.

Commenting on the consultation, Cumbria dairy farmer and Vice-Chairman at RABDF Robert Craig said: “Many dairy farmers will have a borehole or a private water supply, so if they are abstracting more than 20 cubic metres they will be affected.

“The changes being proposed look to make things fairer by making the cost proportionate to the amount being abstracted. This could see the cost for some farmers dropping, whilst for others, it may increase depending on the amount being taken. However, from the details we have, it doesn’t look like the increased costs will be vast.”

Environment Agency Chief Executive Sir James Bevan added: “In the face of the climate emergency, population growth and rising demand for water, we need to protect our rivers, aquifers and the environment; and ensure that those who rely on water for their business or public supply can continue to do so into the future.

“The proposed changes to the Environment Agency’s water abstraction licence charges are designed to do that. They will allow the EA to do more to protect our rivers and chalk streams; to manage our water resources better for the public, businesses and the environment; and to sustain supplies into the future, helping us secure long term water resilience.

The consultation runs until 10 November with the new charging scheme implemented from 1 April 2022.

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