"Farmers and growers stand ready to play their part in moving to a more sustainable water management regime because this is critical to secure and extend domestic food supply and quality," argued NFU water policy adviser Jenny Bashford.
The white paper urges local companies, organisations and individuals to take a role in safeguarding water supplies in their own areas, while deregulating the market in supplying water to encourage new entrants and allowing commercial users to switch suppliers.
However, of the tradable water rights proposed, Country Land & Business Association president Harry Cotterell said: "Safeguards need to be established so that agriculture is not priced out by other industries."
He suggested a two-tier market to help meet food security needs and ensure that the industry gets a fair allocation of available water.
But with many of the proposed changes unlikely to be in place until 2030, he said: "This long transition period must include support for farmers and land managers to adapt their businesses. The Government must relax planning regulations to allow the building of more on-farm reservoirs."
What happens next
- A draft water bill, putting the proposals in legislative form, will be published early in the new year, to be introduced "as soon as Parliamentary time allows", according to Defra.
- Defra will also consult next year on a design of a new abstraction regime and produce "social and environmental guidance".
- A £3.5m innovation in water security competition will be launched by the Technology Strategy Board in March next year.
- Other ways of simplifying or removing regulation will be considered under the Government's Red Tape Challenge.