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Water shares plan aims to preserve England’s supplies

The introduction of a proposed new ‘water shares’ system, which would see all water abstractors own a share in their local water catchment, could create a sense of mutual responsibility among abstractors to preserve water supply and better promote water trading during times of water stress, according to the ICE.

In its response to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ (Defra) Making the Most of Every Drop consultation, which seeks to reform the water abstraction management system and address concerns around the impact of current abstraction permits on water supply, the ICE said meeting England’s future water needs under current circumstances would become “increasingly challenging” and agreed on the need for abstraction reform. It also welcomed the concept of a new water shares option incentivising the trading of water during times of scarcity.

The ICE claimed this could increase the value abstractors place on water; help to bring about a more collaborative approach to managing catchments; and ultimately help to provide more resilience to the water sector.

Chair of the ICE’s expert water panel Michael Norton said: “The water shares option appears to have trading at the centre of its proposal, a concept we promoted in our 2012 State of the Nation: Water report, and one we welcome. But its benefits depend on effective implementation, responsible management and regulation, and ensuring the system is workable for all concerned.

“Water trading will require increased storage and interconnections. Water companies should be incentivised through the regulatory regime, to develop multi-use water resources which benefit society, the environment and industry,” he added.

The ICE also urged Defra to push ahead with a proper strategy or road map, which sets out the objectives for the UK’s water resources and how these benefit society, the economy and the environment - also a key call in its State of the Nation: Water report.

Norton added: “While ICE supports the concept of abstraction licence reform, there is still no overarching water security strategy. Water use goes beyond the need for utility supply for domestic and business customers; the energy industry, agriculturalists and the environment all demand a share of our water resources.

“Abstraction licence reform would indeed form a part of an overarching strategy - however, without this strategy there is a risk that abstraction reform will progress in isolation and not account for other aspects of improving the UK’s water security, such as increased water storage, interconnections and demand management,” Norton said.

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