Memorandum submitted by the Broadland
Agricultural Water Abstractors Group (BAWAG) (A53)
BAWAG is an association of over 100 agricultural
water abstractors based around the Norfolk Broads in East Anglia.
BAWAG was founded in 1997. It represents the water interests of
its members and acts as a forum for discussion of sustainable
agricultural water management.
We welcome the chance to submit evidence to
the Environment and Rural Affairs Select Committee inquiry.
BAWAG members are concerned that in addressing
the current challenges faced by farming the Government and others
are focussing primarily on the supported sector. Many farmers
and growers such as those who produce potatoes, vegetables and
soft fruit do not receive subsidies from the CAP. Many of these
farmers and growers in the unsupported sectors rely on irrigation.
There are currently a number of threats to the long-term viability
of irrigation; these threats are both legislative and fiscal.
Unless the Government addresses the needs of irrigators, either
through statutory concessions or grants for improved water management,
the impacts on farming, particularly in East Anglia will be devastating
and will have a dramatic impact on the wider economy of the region.
Also, since our members have particularly high production standards,
the environmental impacts associated with their produce are minimal
and a shift in production to other regions or countries will probably
have a negative environmental impact.
A removal of access to irrigation water will
lead to the collapse of farming in the region with disastrous
consequence for our members. To date, there has been no Government
recognition of the scale of this problem, nor has any significant
action been taken to tackle this problem. We would like the Government
to address the concerns of irrigators, both when considering reforms
of the CAP and when implementing legislation such as the proposed
Water Bill and the EU Water Framework Directive.
Importance of Irrigation to BAWAG Members
The members BAWAG represents are currently able
to produce high quality food to exacting environmental standards
and provide high levels of rural employment, without subsidies.
The importance of irrigation to BAWAG members cannot be overstated.
Without irrigation they could not produce their crops. Irrigation
methods in the area are amongst the most advanced in the world,
which means that, whilst there are environmental impacts associated
with our production, we are able to produce high quality food
to higher environmental standards than most imports and compared
to production in other areas of the UK where soil types and climatic
conditions restrict production levels and thus reduce irrigation
efficiency. The high technical standards and expertise of our
members also means that the off-farm impacts of crop production
products and fertilisers are minimised.
Impacts of Restrictions on Irrigation
A loss of irrigation capacity would lead to
a change in crops, probably a switch to cereal production, this
would mean a large portion of East Anglian production would move
from the unsupported to supported sector. This would also lead
to increased farm sizes to maximise CAP payments, it would mean
a loss of jobs, as non-irrigated production is generally less
The secondary effects would be a loss of biodiversity
as field sizes increase and also a loss of jobs in the wider economy,
such as the processing factories and logistical support services
associated with potato, vegetable and soft fruit production would
move. There would also be environmental impacts in the regions
to which production shifted. For example, a move of potato or
vegetable production to the Welsh Marches would lead to an increase
in diffuse pollution due to the release of nitrates as pasture
is replaced by arable production, indeed this is already happening.
Sustainable Irrigation Methods
Despite the importance of irrigation to our
members they recognise the environmental concerns the Government
and the European Commission are trying to address through, inter
alia, the Habitats and Birds Directives, the Water Framework
Directive and the proposed Water Bill. In general our members
support the environmental objectives of the Government and of
organisations working to protect and enhance biodiversity and
the quality of the water environment. However, we believe that
the Government should take a sustainable approach which also values
the economic and social contribution that irrigated production
makes to the rural community in East Anglia.
Our members do not wish to damage the environment
through their methods of production and BAWAG members use sophisticated
irrigation methods that maximise water efficiency. BAWAG members
also recognise that they can continue to improve their standards,
and constantly improving and update soil moisture monitoring techniques
and the quality of their irrigation equipment.
As an organisation BAWAG regularly updates its
members on changes in legislation and improvements in irrigation
technology. It also holds seminars and talks at which Government
departments, green NGOs and farming organisations can present
their views on irrigated production.
Winter Storage Reservoirs as a Water Resource
The main impact the current legislative drivers,
both from Westminster and the EU, and the actions of the Environment
Agency, are having on irrigators relate to the loss or restriction
of summer abstraction licences for irrigation water.
It is generally recognised that the best way
to deal with this problem is the construction of winter storage
reservoirs. Indeed the Environment Agency recognise on-farm winter
storage (either individual or joint schemes), as a highly desirable
option for meeting agricultural water needs stating that it is
a "long term sustainable option, positive contribution to
all four sustainability development themes" (Environment
Agency, Anglian Region Water Strategy, 2001).
However, an average winter storage reservoir
costs £250,000. Most farmers and growers do not have the
capital or ability to borrow the funds needed to construct winter
storage reservoirs. There is an additional concern that since
the payback period for this investment is at least 20 years and
the proposed Water Bill may restrict time-limits for abstraction
licenses to less than 20 years, farmers may be left with a reservoir
but not the means to fill it over the winter. If licences do not
guarantee a water supply for the economic or physical life of
the reservoir farmers will not pursue this option.
In order to maintain our businesses and to ensure
our methods of production are as environmentally positive as possible,
we would like the Government to undertake a series of measures.
1. A recognition of the importance of irrigated
agriculture to the East Anglian economy. The Government should
adopt a precautionary approach to protect agricultural water supplies
in the East Anglian region and there should be a prioritisation
of agricultural water supplies in the region.
2. The provision of substantial grants available
for high efficiency irrigation equipment and winter storage reservoirs,
similar to the farm improvement grants available in the 1950 and
1960s. Although there are grants available for reservoirs from
DEFRA under the Rural Enterprise Scheme they are not specifically
earmarked for water storage and the amount of money is insufficient
to make even a minor impact on the water resource needs of the
3. The provision of free on farm advice
on water conservation, water audits and irrigation best practice
to help farmers improve their water efficiency.
4. Time limits on abstraction licences set
to periods that reflect the financial lifetime of the associated
5. Full consideration of social and economic
impacts of environmental actions such as licence reductions.
6. No removal of permanent abstraction licences
without compensation reflecting levels of investment and projected
future returns, with compensation for licence variations/removals
to be met from taxation, not abstraction licence fees.
7. Established trickle irrigators to be
given an amnesty, when the changes to abstraction licences in
the new Water Bill are enacted. Trickle irrigators should be granted
time-limited licences on a par with existing licences.