** Under review following the outcome of the EU Referendum (June 2016) **
Water policy continues to rise up the political agenda. Following the previous Government’s 2008 water strategy, Future Water, three critical policy reviews have been undertaken – the Cave Review, the Walker Review and the Pitt Review – and many recommendations from these appear in the Flood and Water Management Act (FWMA). The Coalition Government has demonstrated its commitment by pressing ahead with further implementation under the FWMA and has also proposed to take forward recommendations not covered in this Act with the Natural Environment White Paper and another Water Bill.
Pressure on the supply of water can only increase as the growing population and climate change make a greater impact on this important resource. We need the right policies to ensure that water resources are managed efficiently. This means water has to be in the right places, in the right quantities and of the right quality so that land managers can deliver food and environmental security.
In relation to water resource there is a range of policies already in place or being implemented that affect this, for example, Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies for abstraction licensing and allocation of water. Government is currently developing a new abstraction licensing system and water market and will consult in spring 2013.
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires the UK to meet good ecological status by 2015 and focuses on diffuse pollution, exacerbated by over abstraction, low flows and physical modifications to water courses which all affect the ecological potential.
The development of River Basin Management Plans is the main tool by which Government and industry will address these issues.
Flood and coastal defences face reductions in Government funding in rural areas as well as the predicted impacts of rising sea levels and the increase of flash flooding. Coasts and rivers need sufficient resourcing and management to ensure that the impacts of flooding and erosion are kept to an absolute minimum to safeguard rural businesses. Defra continues to expand upon and implement its Making Space for Water policy in relation to flood risk management, with the Environment Agency developing the national strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk along with Shoreline Management Plans and Catchment Flood Management Plans. These policies impact on land owners and managers in different ways. For example, they are facing higher management costs as the Environment Agency withdraws from funding the maintenance of many of the main and ordinary watercourses. This requires them to find new or improved income streams to offset the management costs, for example, by selling rod licences or generating revenues from users such as canoeists, who traditionally may not have paid, as well as exploring opportunities for developing flood alleviation schemes and micro-hydro (renewable energy from water).
In addition, riparian (relating to land adjoining watercourses) rights are also important in maintaining the continuity and security of businesses, as well as supporting the stewardship of the countryside, and the CLA believes that the protection of these rights is at the heart of the continued long-term sustainable management of water. Along with this, of course, comes responsibilities such as insuring water courses are not obstructed.
The management of these water issues is taking place within the wider context of climate change. Overall rainfall is predicted to reduce and its distribution to alter, potentially increasing demand for water for irrigated crops and the public as conditions become hotter and drier. Sea level rises and more unpredictable weather patterns are also expected and are likely to cause coastal flooding and increased flash flooding.
Rural businesses and land managers will be significantly affected by water policies and, as they play a major part in water management, it is essential their views are heard. Their concerns must be properly taken into account by the Government. The people who manage and shape our countryside take a long- term view but also need to be supported and encouraged to adapt to water-related pressures through the development of new business opportunities.
Water and our means of managing it are crucial to the businesses of CLA members. It is for these reasons that the CLA keeps water high on the agenda.