Water catchment management not a ‘silver bullet’

Water catchment management (CM) shouldn't be seen as a "silver bullet" to solve water stress and water companies "must be part of the wider picture" by working in partnership with agriculture to support CM initiatives.

That is the conclusion of a meeting hosted by the All Part Parliamentary Water Group at the House of Commons yesterday (November 8), which met to discuss the growing relationship between the water sector and the farming community, as well as considering the advantages and disadvantages of CM.

It also considered the implications of the measures outlined in the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper and the further measures that will be addressed in the Water White Paper, expected to be released at the end of November.

Setting the tone for the meeting was Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, Anne McIntosh, who offered a brief overview of water stress in the UK, while also expressing the view that the upcoming extraction policy is “going to be interesting in the white paper and the forthcoming bill”.

She added that the water committee is going to be looking to the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) to come up with revised safety guidance following publication of the paper.

Speaking at the meeting, Water UK director of environment Sarah Mukherjee, said that community engagement is key to successful CM, which she described as having other benefits, such as producing environmental support for bio-diversity.

According to Ms Mukherjee, “we need to see the positive work that has been done, as links between the farming community and water industry have shown we do share a lot of common vision, particularly with CAP reform”.
As well, she called for CM to become a “collaborative process”, between the industries.

Meanwhile, National Farmers Union (NFU) water policy advisor Jenny Bashford, presented the agricultural point of view, saying that the farming sector sees water as a “valuable resource, not a problem”, adding that key to safeguarding this is water level management work done by drainage boards.

In addition, she said that while agriculture is working in partnership with water companies, that it needs recognition of this voluntary work, which includes work such as the voluntary initiative on pesticides and the greenhouse gas (GHG) action plan.

This is vital, said Ms Bashford to ensure that farmers see the cost benefits too, adding that the partnership approach needs to work so that the costs are spread across the sectors.

Continuing the discussion, Ofwat head of environment and water quality Noel Wheatley said that Ofwat sees CM “as a good thing as part of a wider picture, but warned that “levels of accepted practice may need to be changed”.

He added that to implement CM successfully that catchment level flexibility is key to ensure companies can operate correctly without excessive red tape.

The meeting also debated the ethical and safety issue of increasing the size of some UK reservoirs from 10,000 cu m to 25,000 cu m, arguing that to do so involves little difference in costs, while storage capacity is more than doubled.

Actions agreed in the meeting included a call for Defra and ICE to revisit reservoir capacity rules and for more information on CM to be provided for use by the agricultural sector.

Carys Matthews

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