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Environment Agency has ‘no idea’ how much water taken, says whistleblower | Water

By on November 11, 2022 0

The government has ‘no idea’ how much water is taken from rivers and groundwater, says an Environment Agency (EA) whistleblower, as swaths of England remain dry despite recent heavy rains.

The whistleblower told the Guardian that the EA’s regulation of water withdrawal points for farms, small businesses and private water supplies was “absolutely unnecessary” as most were unmetered and the surveillance that was taking place was unreliable.

The swabs were monitored on a rotational system, but the agency’s inspections were a “waste of time”, the whistleblower said, because in most cases the person or organization carrying out the sampling reported the amount of water she withdrew based on what she noted on a particular day – and “take them at their word.”

“They’re not going to register an illegal number,” the insider said. “That’s why there’s so little enforcement on water withdrawal, they’re not going to get into it.”

The mining licensing regime dates back to the 1960s and successive governments have been committed to reforming it for more than a decade.

According to EA figures for 2018, the latest year for which data is available, there were 18,193 abstraction licenses in force in England, when an estimated 10.4 million cubic meters were removed from non-tidal surface and groundwater.

The Guardian asked EA for the total number of sampling points in England and the proportion monitored, but did not receive the information.

Withdrawals of less than 20 cubic meters per day were exempted from licensing in 2005 under the Water Act. This decision instantly deregulated 22,000 permits, most of which were for agricultural or private water supply purposes.

The EA said: “Abstraction licenses come with terms to ensure protection of the environment and the rights of other abstractors. Our powers and duties allow us to regulate the use of water within the framework of existing licenses and to decide to grant new ones. Where abstraction harms the environment, we also have the power to modify or revoke existing licenses.

However, under the current rules, if the agency modifies the conditions of a license because the extraction harms the environment, it must pay financial compensation to the absorbent. There are plans to remove this requirement, but not before 2028.

EA said it “consistently requires[s] the licensee to keep a record of actual samples available for inspection at a convenient location. This is in addition to the requirement to provide the Environment Agency with official records of actual sampling and compliance inspections carried out by regulators.

It said it was reforming the abstraction management system to “maximize the amount of water available to collectors while protecting aquatic ecosystems in accordance with legal requirements to reduce the risk of environmental deterioration”. and groundwater wherever it is profitable to do so,” he added.

However, there are no plans to require collectors to install water meters. The EA insider said the omission meant the system would remain severely flawed. “You can change the amount of water allowed by a permit, but that’s no use if there’s no meter to register it,” they said.

As of next year, the agency plans to “launch investigations to determine the modifications that may be necessary to the permanent individual direct debit authorizations”. Until then, it will “continue to pursue voluntary changes to harvest licenses through negotiation and adoption of nature-based and watershed-based solutions where possible.”

Feargal Sharkey, the vice president of the charity WildFish, is unconvinced, saying “every day things look rotten” at EA and that the regulator is “sacrificing the environment on the high altar of corporate greed”.

Dr Nathan Richardson, head of policy and strategy at NGO Waterwise, said: “The Environment Agency has pointed out that we are facing a shortage of around 4 billion liters of water per year. day if we want a safe water supply and a healthy environment.

“Given this challenge, it seems pretty basic for regulators to know how much water is being withdrawn, where and when. Without proper monitoring and enforcement, withdrawal regulations will not work and it is very difficult to ensure that water is withdrawn legally and used efficiently.

A spokesperson for EA said: “We are taking strong action to end environmentally harmful water abstraction – and we are monitoring the amount of water in our rivers and groundwater as well as assessments of the impact of water abstraction in all our watersheds.

“Permit holders must monitor and record the amount of water they withdraw and our inspection program ensures that they meet these strict conditions. We will not hesitate to take enforcement action in cases where the conditions are not met.