A leading agricultural lawyer has warned those looking to continue to legally abstract water from privately-owned land may have only a matter of months to apply for a licence.
The Environment Agency announced last year that changes were being made to Water Resources Regulations which will see previously exempt water abstraction activities, such as abstractions from groundwater boreholes and all forms of irrigation, now requiring a licence.
All applications must be made and validated by 31 December 2019 and the new licence conditions will affect anyone who abstracts more than 20 cubic metres each day within the formally exempt geographical area covering parts of Powys, South Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire.
The deadline has prompted Alexandra Phillips, an associate at law firm mfg Solicitors, to highlight her concerns that many farmers and landowners will miss the cut-off and potentially lose their rights – being left with hefty financial penalties or facing enforcement action.
She said: “These new rules are coming in to help protect the environment and we want all landowners and farmers who take water from their land to have the correct abstraction licence in place. It’s new for many.
“It is vital to apply now as abstractors should benefit from the Environment Agency’s current “light touch” approach, which means that most existing abstractors’ applications will be approved. After 31 December licences will only be granted on a resource availability basis.
“The last thing people want is to be short of water if they are watering crops or feeding animals. Applying quickly for the new-look licence will therefore guard against any of those risks.”
Jane Whiteman from the Environment Agency, added: “The new rules will better protect the environment by helping to balance the needs of abstractors while protecting water supplies and the plants and animals that rely on them. Nevertheless, we understand that abstraction licensing may be new to some so we are here to help. It is important that people apply for their licence in good time, ideally by the end of September, as if it is received by us after this point there is a risk that they will lose out on their opportunity to secure their water needs”.