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Water Supply

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 28 January 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what steps his Department is taking in its formulation of policy to take account of the impact which climate change will have on England’s water resources; and if he will make a statement; (250953)

(2) how many water abstractions have been restored to permitted levels since the Restoring Sustainable Abstraction Programme was launched in 1999; and if he will make a statement;

(3) what steps his Department is taking to prevent over-abstraction of water from rivers, wetlands, lakes and groundwaters; and if he will make a statement.

In April 2007, it became a statutory requirement for water companies to prepare and maintain previously voluntary water resources management plans. The water resources management plans look ahead 25 years and include projections of current and future demands for water, and how the companies aim to meet this demand.

In their plans, water companies must take into account the implications of climate change in their supply and demand forecasts, and include an assessment of the impact of each water resource supply option in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Environment Agency has responsibility for managing water resources. The Agency’s forthcoming Water Resources Strategy will include the actions that will need to be taken to ensure enough water for people and the environment. It has been informed by research into future river flows to 2050 and groundwater resources to the 2020s and 2030s.

The Environment Agency is the statutory body with a duty to manage water resources in England and Wales and is taking forward the Restoring Sustainable Abstraction (RSA) programme. To date, the RSA has been limited to identifying the sites where abstraction is at unsustainable levels. It has carried out investigations to identify where changes to abstraction regimes are necessary. In many cases those investigations have concluded that the licensed abstractions are having no adverse effect on the environment. Therefore no action to alter licensed abstractions is necessary.

Of the 2,970 Water Resources licences that have been assessed under the habitats regulations review of consents because they were likely to cause a significant effect on high priority Natura 2000 sites (that is special areas of conservation (SAC) and special protection areas (SPA)), 274 have been found to require an options appraisal to remove a possible adverse effect. In 2,696 cases it could be shown that there was no adverse effect on site integrity and therefore no action was required. Further work is required on medium and low priority sites but to date this relates to less than 10 per cent. of the abstraction licences in England and Wales.

It may also be necessary to take action on other sites not designated under the Habitats and Birds Directives or as SSSIs.

The first cycle of the Environment Agency’s Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies has helped to improve the Agency’s knowledge of where there may be problems of unsustainable abstraction around the country and of specific sites that will require further investigation through RSA.

RSA will also contribute to the Water Framework Directive (WFD) by providing a framework to restore unsustainable abstraction and work towards achieving the WFD target of meeting good ecological status by 2015.

The Agency is expecting to start taking action to revoke or modify abstraction licences at those sites where this is deemed necessary in 2009-10.

Water companies in England have indicated that they intend to take account of the habitats directive changes in their water resource management plans and work with the Environment Agency to resolve unsustainable abstractions. This will mean that some of the licences that have the biggest impacts on some of England’s most important conservation sites will be resolved by voluntary changes.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps his Department is taking to ensure that Ofwat takes account of the effects of climate change in its periodic review of water prices; and if he will make a statement. (250954)

Ofwat sets out in its documents “Setting Price Limits for 2010-15: Framework and approach” and “Capital Expenditure for 2010-15: Ofwat’s views on companies’ draft business plans” how it is taking into account the impact of climate change for the 2009 price review. These documents are available from the Ofwat website.