Reform of the abstraction licensing system in England and Wales

The current abstraction licensing system is unsustainable. We are researching innovative methods that will help water companies and the UK Government meet the future challenges.

Water use in England and Wales is considerably higher than in many other developed countries. Water resources are already under pressure from population growth and climate change. To abstract water from a watercourse or aquifer you are required to have a licence. The current system of abstraction licences, which was set up in the 1960s, was not designed to safeguard the environment, to manage competing demands or to facilitate the trading of water. A third of catchments in England and Wales are already estimated to be over-abstracted or have too much abstraction licensed; two-thirds of catchments are closed to new abstraction licences, and 1 in 10 rivers have environmental damage as a result of over-abstraction. This means that it is difficult for new businesses that require water to operate to obtain abstraction licences.

The UK government is investigating reforms to the abstraction licensing system, with the aims of improving its equity, the efficiency of water use, as well as being more flexible in terms of facilitating the trading of water rights. Over the past 12 months we have been developing innovative modelling techniques to meet the challenges of the future. These include:

  • a grid based hydrological software linked to models that replicate the behaviour of abstractors that will allow the UK government to produce robust policies concerning the management of water resources in the future
  • interactive demonstrations of web-based platforms based on smart market technology that facilitate trading of abstraction licences over short time periods between different sectors (e.g. farmers and industry).

Reforming the abstraction licensing system in England and Wales is likely to take several years and take place incrementally as was the case in Australia. Our novel approaches will go a long way to assist in achieving the overall goal.

Contact us for more information
Darren Lumbroso
Technical Director
+44 (0)1491 822899