Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum by the East Suffolk Water Abstractors Group

  East Suffolk Water Abstractors Group represents the interests of 80 irrigation abstractors in East Suffolk. The group believes that the home production of food from sustainable resources is the most environmentally acceptable. Five thousand five hundred hectares of vegetables are grown in the area. Potatoes, carrots and onions are the major crops, although the variety ranges from melons and strawberries to "mange touts" and swedes. There are also several large nurseries in the area including Messrs. Notcutts who alone employ 300 people. The group's database shows that the growing of irrigated crops produces in excess of £10 million annually for the local economy from direct and indirect employment. A study being carried out at the University of East Anglia on behalf of the group has shown that, for climatic and other reasons, a proportion of the East Suffolk production could not be substituted elsewhere in the UK. It would, therefore, necessitate importation. The transport required to carry this produce to the nearest UK port would create an extra 5,000 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide Emissions.

  The continuity of this industry is dependent upon a reliable water supply for irrigation. This is needed to ensure a return on, not just on the high amount of working capital required, but also the continued investment required on new technology.

  This supply is coming under increasing threat in the near future. Firstly, from environmental pressure through the Habitat and Birds directives which protects the estuaries and marshes for wading birds of which East Suffolk has many. Secondly, from climate change which will be managed by the Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy (CAMS) and Section 57 drought orders which can curtail direct summer spray irrigation abstraction. Much of the East Suffolk abstraction is currently direct summer abstraction from rivers or the ground aquifer.

  East Suffolk Water Abstractors Group believes that the long term answer for avoiding potential curtailment of abstraction is to construct winter storage reservoirs. These would be filled with surplus water flows from rivers and streams. Climate change predictions are for warmer summers but wetter and milder winters. The reservoirs might be individually owned or more probably co-operative ventures.

  The Group is asking for support for this idea. Help will be needed in the form of grant aid for the construction of such reservoirs and related works. Also, in the easing of bureaucratic and planning restrictions to enable the construction of the reservoirs to take place.

  Although I have quoted details for East Suffolk, the main principles apply to other areas of the United Kingdom where irrigation takes place. In Suffolk and Norfolk, environmental concerns are the greatest threat to irrigation abstraction. In the South East and central England there is further pressure from public water supply requirements.

September 2005

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