Government urged to put abstraction reform back on the agenda

WWF has expressed concerns that abstraction reform has been “put on the back burner” ahead of the second Water Bill reading, widely expected to take place early next week.

The government included an abstraction reform clause in the Water Bill white paper but omitted it from the Bill when it was published this summer.

Speaking to Utility Week, Rose O’Neill, corporate stewardship manager of UK freshwater policy at WWF-UK, said: “It is something that successive governments have been talking about doing for decades. We were really encouraged with the Water Bill white paper but there is no reason why enabling legislation cannot be brought forward in this Bill.”

Dr Paul Leinster, chief executive of the Environment Agency, recently said in a Utility Week interview that he was not too concerned about the current pace of abstraction reform.

“Abstraction reform is planned but is going to take some time to work through. I think we just have to wait to see how that gets addressed,” he said.

However, the NGO argued time was of the essence because most abstraction licenses, which were issued in the 1960s, are “not fit or purpose”.

WWF is also concerned that upstream reform, outlined in the Water Bill, could exacerbate current abstraction problems.

“Sixty per cent of the water licenced for abstraction is not taken and we are concerned that the upstream elements of the Bill will incentivise abstractors to take that water. There are not enough safeguards currently in place in the Water Bill to address this issue,” said Timlett.