Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Country Land and Business Association

CLIMATE CHANGE AND WATER SECURITY

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

    —  Rural people and businesses depend on supplies of water of sufficient quantity and the right quality, when they are required. Many consumers are supplied through an infrastructure of pipes, many of which are in poor condition.

    —  It would be particularly helpful, were government able to provide incentives to "water savers" in the same way that energy savings are encouraged by provision of grants for solar panels and insulation measures.

    —  Farmers and growers, especially irrigators, are totally reliant on a supply of water that is both affordable and available to them in sufficient quantities at peak growing times. Demands by growers tend to be at their highest during the summer, when surface waters and aquifers are least able to meet all these needs. Their greatest needs therefore tend to coincide with periods of drought and soil moisture deficit. Ways need to be found to store more water during the winter, for use by growers during the summer. Ideally, these facilities should be on farm, to reduce the needs for transport infrastructure. Planning regulations need to reflect this.

    —  Flood water is seen by society as a threat and not as an opportunity. It will continue to pose a threat, unless some of the heavy rainfall could be retained in the uplands for the use of society during the drier months. Alternatively, more water could be held back by diversions into washlands adjoining rivers and upstream of towns or villages, where these are at greatest risk from flooding. Landowners would support these measures, if payments were to be made available by Government, to reward the public benefits that would be produced. This would be a long-term form of investment and management and incentives would need to reflect this.

    —  Biodiversity could be enhanced by the creation of wetlands, but only if these are designed to be permanent and not just transitory features. There is still a need for flood assets constructed by the Environment Agency, to be managed in a way that it helps to enhance biodiversity. Where surface or groundwater abstractions are to be reduced for biodiversity reasons, those whose rights are affected need to be compensated by the taxpayer, and not by increasing licence fees to be paid for by other abstractors.

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has some 40,000 members. A significant proportion of its members own and manage estates or are farmers in England and Wales. The land is their factory floor and their ability to grow grass, arable crops and trees is either enabled or constrained by climatic factors such as, sunshine, rainfall, temperature, humidity and wind. Fishing is an important leisure pursuit for many of our members. Those estates and businesses that depend on letting of fishing rights or permits are also dependent on river quality and water levels.

  2.  Climate change that results in periods of drought or excessively heavy rainfall, will influence the extent to which some crops can be grown, or whether they can be grown at all in certain parts of the country. Many members rely on irrigation to boost yields of a range of arable crops. They are reliant on assured and affordable quantities of water, at the times of the year it is most needed. There are times in the year when there is far more water in rivers than consumers are capable of utilising and flooding causes damage to crops and some losses of animals.

  It would appear that storm events are becoming more severe and the sheer volume that can fall on some catchments, makes management of both land and water far more difficult.

  3.  One of the greatest difficulties lies in our inability to forecast both drought and excessively heavy rainfall. The need to store water during times of excess, for use in times of shortage is evident. The Association's members are able to use some of their land to create storage facilities and there is interest in the potential for "water farming". There is potential to transfer water from the "wet west" to the "dry east".

  4.  Members are very conscious of the need to meet the aims of the European Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive, in relation to enhancement of biodiversity in watercourses and wetlands. Members are keen to meet appropriate and reasonable targets and they are more than willing to work in partnership with the Environment Agency, English Nature, other Government agencies and NGOs.

Terms of Reference of the Inquiry

  The Committee will consider:

    —  whether existing water supplies are adequate, and what additional sources of water might be needed;

    —  what will be the impact on resources management (and particularly the need for changes in irrigation and water conservation for agriculture);

    —  the implications for fold management, investment in mitigation measures, and for wider policy such as planning; and

    —  ways in which the impact of changes in water availability on biodiversity can be minimised.

Adequacy of supplies

  5.  There is a tendency for peak demand for water for household, agricultural and horticultural use, to coincide with the time of the year when groundwater recharge is at its lowest and crop growth rates are at their peak. The majority of domestic demand and some agricultural supplies are drawn from water companies. The water used is taken from aquifers, rivers and reservoirs. Most of the infrastructure used to carry this water from supplier to consumer was "antiquated" at the time of privatisation of the water and sewerage industry. Leaks were, and continue to be, commonplace. The water companies have reinvested very large amounts of money paid by consumers under water charges, in leak repairs and pipe work replacement. Despite this, the scale of leakage is still unacceptably high. Thames Water has forecast that the company is likely to detect some 37,500 hidden leaks in 2004. This gives some idea of the scale of the problem nationally. The Committee is asked to consider ways in which the rate of renewal of the water-carrying infrastructure can be increased in England and Wales. Since water saving is such an important principle, Government is urged to make a significant contribution toward the costs. Many users already pay large water charges, due to the ongoing need for massive investments in the water industry. We consider it would be very unfair to burden consumers with additional charges to repair an infrastructure, which was in such poor condition at the time of handover by Government of publicly-owned assets to the water companies.

  6.  Other water savings can be achieved by charges being levied on the amount of water used. The CLA has already stated, in its response to the Environment Agency's Review of the Water Abstraction Charges Scheme, that it supports the principle of actual volume charging.

  7.  Rural people and businesses are heavily dependent on surface or ground water, or supplies from water companies for their livelihoods and quality of life. Many people who live in more remote areas are totally dependent on private water supplies. These can be affected by long periods of drought or demands on surface or groundwater by other users. Many people whose supplies are at risk are already investing in facilities like tanks and reservoirs to secure their own needs. Planning regulations currently pose strong disincentives to farmers and landowners who wish to construct reservoirs on their property to guarantee a sustainable supply of water and to reduce their need to draw water from already overstretched supplies.

  8.  Issue 64 of the Environment Agency's demand management bulletin explains the role of the WaterSave initiative and a range of examples are given to help those interested in saving the amount of water they use, or in recycling for reuse. It also mentions work being done to promote rainwater harvesting. The Committee is asked to consider ways in which Government could promote a much more effective adoption of water saving systems by architects, house builders and the construction companies which build factories, warehouses, retail and industrial premises.

  9.  It would be particularly helpful, were government able to provide incentives to "water savers" in the same way that energy savings are encouraged by provision of grants for solar panels and insulation measures.

  10.  Drought is a particular threat to those businesses that depend on water during the growing or tourist seasons. The need to store water during times of excess, for use in times of shortage was stressed in the introduction. The Association's members are able, and some of them are willing, to use some of their land to create storage facilities. There is interest in the potential for "water farming", in which landowners in those parts of England and Wales that enjoy high rainfall, could conserve water for distribution to those parts of the country that suffer from severe soil moisture deficits.

The particular needs of irrigators

  11.  Farmers and growers who irrigate their crops, have to make large investments to purchase, install and maintain spray or trickle irrigation systems. Crops are irrigated to improve growth rates and quality, enabling British growers to compete with growers in other countries. They are totally reliant on a supply of water that is both affordable and available to them in sufficient quantities at peak growing times. Their greatest needs tend to coincide with periods of drought and soil moisture deficit.

  12.  The Committee's Terms of Reference imply that there is a need for changes in irrigation and water conservation for agriculture. (These terms do not, however, identify the need to mitigate the effects of abstractions by water companies or other major industrial users). One motivator of the need for changes, are requirements contained within the European Habitats Directive, the Special Protection Areas Directive and domestic legislation that require Government to meet PSA targets for favourable condition in wetlands in England and Wales.

  13.  The Environment Agency has identified a need to reduce some abstractions or to withdraw licences to abstract in some catchment areas. The CLA has stated, in its response to the Agency's review paper, "Growers in England and Wales are competing against "cheaper" imports of food, grown in countries that do not bear the same burden of regulation as we do in the UK. If abstraction is to be limited for the good of the natural and human environment, then the main beneficiaries, the taxpayers, should bear the costs. If abstractors are required to compensate other abstractors whose water take is curtailed, this would impose significant additional costs on production. This could jeopardise the ability of some businesses to survive".

Flood risk and event management

  14.  Flooding is damaging and can be enormously disruptive in rural areas. Whilst heavy rainfall cannot be prevented, weather forecasting now sufficiently accurate to enable the Environment Agency to predict areas and levels where flooding is a risk.

  15.  We are, however, far less able to make the most effective use of heavy rainfall to recharge aquifers or to provide areas where water can be stored. Cultivation techniques can be modified to ensure increased infiltration, whilst continuous ground cover by vegetation can reduce runoff. Maintenance of hedgerows, field margins and buffer zones, helps to reduce erosion. Fields that are too steep to be ploughed safely by following the contours, tend to be ploughed by running up and down the contours. This can lead to rapid runoff, soil erosion and reduced rates of percolation into aquifers. It would be possible to target steep land that is used for arable cultivation, because it provides a better return than pasture, to ensure that it is restored to grassland. Appropriate and sufficiently attractive incentives would need to be offered, to encourage growers to restore to grassland and to manage it. The impact that this kind of pastoral restoration would have, however, would be very limited when compared with the scale of the problem that needs to be addressed.

  16.  Reductions in stocking rates in ESA and CSS agreement areas that were formerly overgrazed, is helping to increase the sponge capacity of moorland soils in a number of upland areas. Whilst this is helping to reduce rates of runoff, increases in shrubby plant and tree cover will have an effect of archaeological features and the ease with which walkers and riders will be able to cross access areas.

  17.  The most effective way of reducing the levels of flooding suffered during heavy rainfall and storm events, would be to hold water back in the uplands or to divert it into washlands adjoining rivers and upstream of towns or village that are at greatest risk from flooding. Such measures would have significant implications for the integrity of some National Parks and for the productivity of improved pastures or arable areas that are suitable of use as washlands. Given the right incentives, landowners would be willing to make land available for flood alleviation schemes.

Minimising risks to wetland biodiversity

  18.  Abstraction from aquifers or surface waters can have a significant effect on fens and wetlands fed by groundwater. Watercourses can also be damaged by excessive draw down from aquifers that underlie them. For example, a new borehole location enabled far more natural artesian groundwater to reach Redgrave and Lopham Fen NNR in Suffolk. This, and a range of site restoration works have resulted in significant improvements to this SAC.

  19.  Riparian zones of river can be damaged by excessive amounts of water and erosion during flooding. Conversely they are damaged by too little water in times of drought or as a result of over abstraction. Both scenarios could result from climate change. Aquatic invertebrates that live in the upper reaches of rivers, particularly those in upland areas, are particularly susceptible to changes in water quality and temperature. The status of some species is already threatened by acid rain and the fact that rainfall now precipitates around 20 kg/ha/pa of nitrogen on upland areas within England and Wales. Most of this derives from vehicle exhausts—the switch from leaded to unleaded petrol, increased the levels of another pollutant. The future of these susceptible and important indicator species will be threatened even more by excessive spates and periods of drought and warm water temperatures.

  20.  River engineering has had a poor record in the past and damage to biodiversity and losses of landscape features were among the casualties. Employment of ecologists by the Environment Agency has enabled engineers to plan and carry out schemes that not only less damaging, but can and do provide biodiversity gains. There is, however, still an excessive amount of closely mown grassland adjacent to flood defence assets. Some of this is justified by the risk of mammal damage, where rodents and others excavate holes in flood banks and other assets—but only, if the grass and wild flowers are left to grow up.

  21.  Biodiversity could be enhanced by the creation of wetlands, but only if these are designed to be permanent and not just transitory features. Land will need to be found, to enable these features to be created and managed. Owners and farmers could be willing partners, if the provision of biodiversity is accepted as an economically viable "public good".

Country Land and Business Association

April 2004



 
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