Water industry players wait as Environment Agency consultation on abstraction charges continues

Published by Rhys Taylor-Brown on October 1st 2021, 10:01am

The Environment Agency is now six weeks into its consultation on changes to the way in which licence holders are charged to abstract water from the environment.

The consultation, launched on August 18, aims to review changes to help more effectively protect the environment and the long-term security of British water and follows on from the 2017 Water Abstraction Plan jointly published by the Environment Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [DEFRA].

Population growth and climate change is already applying significantly greater pressure on England’s water resources, with recent estimates suggesting that over 3.4 billion additional litres of water per day could be needed in England alone by 2050.

The Environment Agency says that without action, the nation risks “significant water shortages” in some parts of the country.

Currently, all business operating in the UK require an abstraction licence to take more than 20 cubic metres of water per day from a river, stream, canal or groundwater. It is believed that by reviewing and updating how these businesses are charged for these licences now, it can secure the longevity of Britain’s water sources.

The new proposed charges which have remained unaltered for a decade up to this point will be based on factors including but not restricted to the volume of water taken from the environment; where the water is taken from; and how much of that water is subsequently returned to the environment.

Under the proposals as they stand prior to the end of the consultation process, roughly 45 per cent of abstractors will see their annual charges reduced, while 55 per cent would be liable to higher charges.

Meanwhile, new licence applicants will be subject to a higher initial application fee.

Chief executive of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, commented that the changes will allow the public body to invest more into upgrading water infrastructure across the country and increase the use of data to help improve management of water resources on a local level.

Sir James said: “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.

“I urge anyone with an interest to take part in this consultation on this critical issue for us all.”

Interested parties encouraged to partake in the consultation process include all who abstract water from natural sources, spanning water companies, farmers, local authorities, and various other entities.

One company that will be following the developments of the consultation process with keen interest is Crowder Consulting, a provider of innovative and progressive consultancy services for the management, monitoring, improvement, and regulatory reporting of water networks, from source to tap.

For more than 30 years, the business has provided services to major water service providers, supporting their journey towards Smart Networks. The firm’s work is split between three main arms: consultancy and fieldwork, data and information and software development.

Crowder Consulting’s flagship system, known as Netbase, manages water networks and leakage management by acting as a hub that is continuously updated with new data. This data is subsequently integrated and analysed through a comprehensive range of best-practice applications covering the monitoring, leakage targeting, reporting, network management and modelling of water networks by the operator’s community of users.

The Netbase hub provides a water operator with a rich and unique view of their data, having been configured to represent their network of pipes, areas, assets, and customers. With the Environment Agency having outlined the use of data to help improve management of water sources as a major priority, the work of businesses such as Crowder Consulting is likely to prove critical in delivering on these ambitions.

Netbase is also playing a significant role in helping water abstracting companies fulfil requirements for improved leakage reporting as set-out by the Water Services Regulation Authority, Ofwat.

Speaking to The Parliamentary Review, Crowder Consulting managing director, George Crowder, said: “Ofwat’s requirements for 2020 business plans have challenged water companies to improve service, affordability and innovation performance. For example, very challenging leakage reduction targets have been set between 15 and 20 per cent. We are fully engaged in supporting our client water companies to meet these targets.

“The Ofwat requirements for improved leakage reporting have been incorporated into our Netbase hub, providing improved daily and weekly leakage figures to inform their operational targeting and strategic reduction programmes. Our innovative leakage campaigns management solution, through our Netbase digital services platform, enables prioritisation, planning and continuous tracking of their detection and repair activities to support assessment of impacts on leakage. This web-based solution provides “end-to-end” visibility of appropriate information at all levels of the client’s organisation, for decisions to be made and actions taken.”

While the Environment Agency’s consultation into water abstraction licence changes is due to close on November 10, the government is set to consult later in the year on how to streamline the overall regulatory framework for abstraction licensing in England to make the system as flexible as possible for all users.

Following the consultation processes, the new charging scheme will come into force from April 1, 2022. 

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Authored By

Rhys Taylor-Brown
Junior Editor
October 1st 2021, 10:01am

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