18 November 2013
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The idea was originally trialled in Scotland in the Whiteadder catchment in the Borders in 2010 and, due to its success, a second trial is proposed in the New Year with the Lemno Burn in Angus. The scheme aims to ensure the environment is protected, while securing the water supply for all users.
Although it sometimes seems as though Scotland has too much water, competing pressures can result in not enough to go round. This is a particular problem in drier years like 2013 when there is more need to irrigate crops.
The approach to be taken by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), which has been discussed with NFUS, Scottish Tenant Farmers Association and the Scottish Land and Estates, will consider the total volume of water available in a catchment rather than looking at each abstraction individually.
Stuart McGowan, SEPA's Unit Manager for Angus and Dundee, explained:
We need to make sure that there is enough water to go round, and that includes the needs of the environment. This year we had a very dry summer and it's become very apparent that some areas are still over abstracted resulting in extremely low flows.
"By looking at the whole catchment, we hope to increase flexibility for land managers to co-ordinate the use of water with other members of the group. This may mean that higher volumes could be available to the individual if other members of the group aren't growing water dependent crops that year, or by scheduling an irrigation rota amongst themselves. The first step in this process is to get all the licence holders in the catchment around the table early in the New Year"
SEPA has been issuing licences for abstractions since 2005 and has been involved in licence verification inspections since then. Over the last two years the agency has been working with land managers in catchments that have been identified at risk of impact from irrigation abstraction and taking a phased approach, seeking to improve water security for abstractors by discussing crop requirements, water efficiency, irrigation programming and use of storage ponds.
This work has resulted in licence requirements being changed to more accurately reflect actual water usage – ensuring the amount of water abstracted, and the degree to which the environment is impacted, isn't over-estimated.
So that SEPA has the most up to date and accurate data on water use, and therefore the most accurate picture of where the deficits are, it's important that abstractors submit data returns as required by their licence
Land managers will be aware that it is a requirement of their licence to submit annual data returns on water usage to SEPA, but to date this has been poorly complied with. This information not only allows us to more accurately assess the impact of irrigation, but is now also required by us for Cross Compliance Purposes administered through SGRPID.
"Failure to submit this information to SEPA by 31 December 2013 could affect payments to land managers under the Cross Compliance Scheme, so we urge you to make sure you complete them all in time. To make data return submission easier you can now send them electronically online, by following the instructions given on our data returns page."
Land managers are also being reminded that if they do not intend to grow water dependent crops next year, and therefore know that they will not be abstracting, then they can apply for an exemption from subsistence charges subject to the necessary application form, available via the web address above, being completed and submitted to SEPA by the last day of February.
It should be noted that the exemption from charging lasts for one year only and people must reapply in writing in the subsequent year if they wish to avoid charges.