UK rivers healthier, but more must be done

31st January 2012

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  • Adaptation ,
  • Environment agencies ,
  • Management



Tougher rules on the amount of water businesses can take from UK rivers have improved the flow of 590 miles of waterways, but greater efficiency is needed, warns the Environment Agency (EA)

The agency’s Restoring Sustainable Abstraction programme investigates abstraction licenses granted to businesses in previous decades and which are enabling unsustainable and damaging levels of water abstraction.

New figures from the agency reveal that, since the 1990s, the programme has been able to amend 92 licenses reducing the amount of water removed from rivers and countering environmental damage being caused. The River Darent, for example, no longer dries up in the summer months, following a reduction in annual licensed abstraction of 36 million litres.

Overall, the EA has been able to restore 55 billion litres of water to UK rivers each year that had previously been taken by water companies and industry, improving the health of hundreds of miles of wetland ecosystems.

However, the agency confirms there remain hundreds of sites across England and Wales where levels of water abstraction remain unsustainable, and that it is working with water companies to improve 150 sites by 2015.

With the impacts of climate change and a growing population likely to dramatically increase pressure on UK water supplies, Ian Barker, the EA’s head of water, land and biodiversity, called on businesses to improve their water efficiency to protect the country’s waterways and wetlands.

“There is still a lot to do and it will require businesses to use water more efficiently, reducing the amount they take from rivers that are under pressure,” he said.

“Water is a precious resource and we have to use it wisely. The amount of water used by business and people is directly linked to the amount water there is in our rivers for fish and other wildlife.”

The news follows Defra’s UK Climate Change Risk Assessment, which examined potential impacts of a changing climate on the national economy and warned that by the 2050’s the number of rivers from which water could sustainably be sourced may drop significantly. In particular the assessment highlighted the south-east of England where it estimated that the number of sites that could provide sustainable water abstraction may fall by 29%-83%.

According to the EA, some parts of England are already preparing for drought this summer after experiencing the driest 12 months since records began.


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