The Abstraction Regime

A better balance

The Government’s 2011 White Paper ‘Water for Life’ announced plans for a new abstraction regime which aims to balance environmental objectives with fairer distribution of available resources.

Conceived in the 1960s, the current system for managing abstraction from rivers and aquifers is fairly simple. Abstractors are generally given licences allowing them to take a fixed volume of water from rivers or aquifers however in some regions (‘catchments’), there is not enough water left behind to support the natural environment once abstractors have removed ‘their’ water.


This system will not deliver the more challenging environmental objectives set by the Water Framework Directive. The proposed new regime will therefore set out to correct imbalances and remove barriers to the trading of abstraction licences and bulk supplies. If one abstractor has more capacity or supplies than they need, they can sell it to another. Defra is developing its plans for abstraction reform  via consultation (2013 and 2016), further policy work in 2016-2017 in order to pass legislation in order to remove exemptions (by 2021) and implement full abstraction reform in the early 2020s.