An article published in The Times today covering Environment Agency inspections has said checks on water companies and individuals are drawing too much water from English rivers and aquifers have fallen over the last four years. At the same time, the paper highlights there has been an increase in funding for water resource staff from about £3.3 million in 2020-21 to around £4.6 million in 2022-23.
The piece including commentary suggesting that more should be done to make sure the Environment Agency is carrying out compliance checks.
However, it is important to note that inspections are carried out on a risk-based approach and vary year-to-year, depending on weather conditions and changing circumstances. They are also funded by charges on water companies and individuals and not through government grant in aid.
Moreover, the figures quoted for increasing funding for water resources officers are for teams who deal with a range of water resource management issues, including monitoring, drought management, and assessing the feasibility of new water resource options – not just compliance.
In response, an Environment Agency spokesperson said:
This is misleading - inspections are not our only way of assessing that those who take water from the environment are complying with their licences – we also use satellite data, irrigation patrols and have a network of river gauging, groundwater level and ecological monitoring systems. This allows us to target activity to where and when the risks are highest and the environment is most vulnerable.
More widely, we are strengthening the way we regulate to drive better performance from the water industry, with additional specialist officers and new data tools to provide better intelligence.
A Defra spokesperson said:
We are clear that water companies must manage their abstraction activities sustainably and our initiatives have resulted in 131 million litres less water a day being removed from the environment over the last decade.
Our Plan for Water is delivering more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement to protect our water environment and ensure water companies are held to account.