Town bordering a large river

Issues of water scarcity and security should be balanced between the needs of abstractors and the need to protect the environment. In England, changes to water abstraction licenses form part of attempts to find this balance.

Water abstraction management is vital to ensuring resilient water supplies for the future, and the Environment Agency has been asking abstractors for their views on how to manage this. According to Defra, as many as one in five water bodies are over-abstracted, which can contribute to physical changes that affect biodiversity and damage the environment.

In 2017, the Environment Agency published a long-term plan to reform abstraction, eventually planning to bring it into the Environmental Permits regime by 2023. Trusts, farmers and organisations that were previously exempt due to location or activities have found themselves classed as ‘New Authorisations’, needing abstraction management planning and licences.

Thanks to our long-standing relationships with regulators, APEM can help you navigate the licensing process and help mitigate the effect of your operations on the environment. We provide a collaborative solution to assess not only how much water you abstract, but also its quality. The amount of water you can abstract without damaging the environment can be affected by pollution or fine sediment inputs from nearby fields, so we can look at solutions such as buffer strips, tree planting, or sediment ingress systems to help mitigate the combined effects of abstraction and poor water quality.

APEM offers a complete package of strategic thinking, environmental assessment, monitoring, analysis, options appraisal, reporting and stakeholder engagement to solve the challenges of abstraction licensing and reservoir operation. We take a strong scientific approach, striving for pragmatic, cost-effective outcomes and early regulator agreement.

We can also use our hierarchy of pressures approach to rank the stresses acting on the water body and use our COVER+® tool to quantify the natural capital benefits of catchment management interventions. This makes them measurable and tangible, for transparency to stakeholders and regulators as recommended by the government’s 25 year Environment Plan and the water resource planning guideline.

Abstraction management can also help with scalability: if you need more water as your company grows, you may be able to abstract more without damaging the environment if the water quality is better and the physical state of the waterbody is more natural. APEM can also take a look at your company’s future plans and their compatibility with the government’s 25-year Environment Plan.

In future, water will become even scarcer. Rainfall patterns are changing, and so is flooding, seasonal drought and disruption. Organisations need to be smarter about maximising the type and amount of water they use, and their impact on the environment. After all, water is a valuable and life-saving commodity.

Watch our webinar

APEM recently hosted a webinar on ‘Assessing the ecological impacts of abstractions and impoundments – lessons and challenges’ where our Divisional Director, Eliot Taylor and Associate Director, Hannah Austin discussed the issues around water abstraction. Watch the recording here.

To find out more visit our Water abstraction page or contact us. We’d be delighted to help you with abstraction management and licensing, water catchments or terrestrial surveys.


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APEM are a global environmental consultancy providing independent advice and guidance to support government and environmental regulatory guidelines.