Industry figures say the Water Act 2003, which was granted Royal Assent late last month, will cost horticulturists time and money, and could ultimately lead to water supplies being cut off.
The Act links water abstraction licensing to local water resource availability, moving from using purpose-based licensing to volume-consumed licensing.
Consultant John Adlam, who deals with horticulturists’ water supply problems, said: “Anyone currently using drip irrigation from a surface or underground water source without an abstraction licence will require one. If the area is one of high water demand that may prove to be difficult. Growers who have been abstracting for 30 years may not be able to do so two years from now.”
Adlam added that growers will have to carry out costly environmental surveys to renew licences. Growers will also submit first rights to water if they fall within 2.5km of environmental sites.
Midland Regional Growers deputy chairman Neil Jackson said: “Our main concern about the Act is the definition of sustained environmental damage. After a dry summer the environment usually recovers. If rights are suspended, growers may be forced to use mains when water companies are short of water.”
Environment minister Elliot Morley said: “The Act links with other government initiatives to carry forward our commitment to sustainable water policy. If we are serious about sustainable development then we need to be willing to make changes to the way we use water.”
Meanwhile, the Environment Agency has warned that serious water shortages will occur next year unless 20 per cent more rain than usual falls in the next four months.
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