Anglian Water has announced it will share resources from the River Nene with nearby farmers to enable them to take extra water for their crops, following recent dry weather.

Lower than average rainfall, continuing through April and May – particularly in Anglian’s own area the East of England – has seen some river flows decline to lower than normal for the time of year.

Farmers across East Anglia, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire have reported facing significant pressures with irrigation and Environment Agency monitoring has shown a decline in the water available.

Anglian is currently finalising an agreement with the Environment Agency and the local drainage board which will mean it will take less water from the river for drinking water, allowing the farmers to use the resources to irrigate their crops.

The water company will reduce abstraction from the river to allow downstream irrigators to take more water for crops. Anglian will then make that water up when there are additional flows in the river.

Anglian reports that a total of 20 million litres of water a day – equivalent to the domestic use of 150,000 customers – will be available for local farmers to use from the south and east of Peterborough over towards the north of Cambridge.

Hannah Stanley-Jones, water resources manager for Anglian Water, said: “Despite the recent dry weather, we know our water resources are secure for this year – our reservoirs are 91 per cent full, however groundwater and river levels are lower than we would expect at this time of year.

“Known as the ‘bread basket of England’, agriculture makes up a huge part of our local economy, and water is a vital part of supporting that.

“It’s been drier than normal now for the last year, with only 76 per cent of the average rainfall expected.  More recently in April, we only saw 30 per cent.

“We know local farmers need more water to irrigate their crops this year, which is why we’re redirecting this precious resource to areas that need it most.

“Investment now in resilient infrastructure, driving down leakage to world leading low levels, working across sectors and helping our customers save more water than ever before will make a difference to the resources we all have available for the long term, not just this summer.”

The agreement comes at the same time as the Environment Agency’s latest National Drought Group meeting, where water users from across all sectors discussed their preparedness for prolonged periods of dry weather into the summer and beyond.

Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan met with government departments, the Met Office, National Farmers Union (NFU) and water company CEOs to agree the action needed to support farmers and wildlife as well as conserve water supplies if the dry weather persists.

The NFU urged farmers to consider how they could be affected by running out of water and to make plans, where possible, to manage water shortages. The EA set out a number of steps it has taken to support farmers including:

  • Allowing farmers to flex abstraction licence conditions to take more water, wherever this can be done without damaging the environment, in order to safeguard food production and animal welfare. So far in 2019, the EA has approved 90 per cent of requests
  • Extending the licence trading map from East Anglia to Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, East Midlands and West Midlands, to help abstractors look for opportunities to access other abstractors’ unused water
  • Working with the NFU, CLA and AHDB to hold advice sessions for farmers since January 2019

Bevan said: “Ahead of the summer months, the National Drought Group met to agree action to reduce the risk of drought measures and damage to the environment.

“Some rivers and groundwater supplies are below average so the Environment Agency is ready to respond to incidents over the summer and we are supporting farmers where possible by flexing water abstraction licences and with water trading.

“We welcome action the water companies are taking to ensure maintenance of supply over the coming months.”

Meanwhile Southern Water has revealed its looks “more likely” it will need to apply for drought permits later this summer as changes to its abstraction licence for the River Test in Hampshire combined with lower than average rainfall in recent months pose “a challenge” for the company.