Growers and utilities challenged over water security

Legislative reforms will not be enough to deliver water security without growers and water companies also playing their part, Defra minister for water Richard Benyon told a conference on water security held at East Malling Research last week.

Promising further capital grant schemes that could be used to construct on-farm reservoirs, he said: "We need to make it easier to, for example, build a bigger reservoir than you need upstream, which you can then flush to release water downstream when the need arises. That's the kind of innovation we want to see. Incentives should encourage water companies to trade more with each other."

Pointing to the role of drought-resistant crops and improved irrigation technology, Benyon pointed out: "You can save an enormous amount of water without affecting the crop."

He described reform of water abstraction legislation as "vital" but warned that it is complex, both environmentally and economically.

"We have 50-year-old water abstraction that is unfit for the 21st century but it's really important that we reform it in a thoughtful way," Benyon maintained. "We will face many more peaks and troughs and need to adapt to that."

Questioned on whether Defra would consider ring-fencing water supplies for agriculture, Benyon said: "I am open to some sort of protected element to water abstraction in future. It's crucial we don't create something that is too rigid."

He added that on the question of future hosepipe bans and other domestic restrictions: "People expect me as a politician to tell the water companies what to do. But it's important that these issues are managed by the companies working with their regulators."

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