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Water Abstraction Design Principles And Practices For Delivering Net Best Social, Economic And Environmental Benefits -- Are We On The Right Track, And Can We Get It Right Under Future Pressures And R

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Colin Fenn (Woking, UK)


Keyword(s): Sub-theme 9: Water allocation among competing uses and users,
Abstract Water abstraction design principles and practices for delivering net best social, economic and environmental benefits -- are we on the right track, and can we get it right under future pressures and risks? Dr Colin Fenn Associate, WWF-UK Managing Director, Hydro-Logic Services Chair, CIWEM Water Resources Panel WWF-UK, Living Planet Centre, Rufford House, Brewery Road, Woking, GU21 4LL Tel (0044) (0)1491 871547; mobile (0044) (0)7710 109263; e colin.fenn2@btinternet.com The central purpose of the European Framework Directive is to maintain and improve the health of aquatic ecosystems -- or, more particularly, of nominated key species in the ecosystem at particular places -- in the face of mounting pressures on natural water resources from people and climate, subject to defined cost proportionality and affordability constraints. It sets aspirations, but provides exemptions. This paper considers whether its implementation in England is delivering as well as it might for the environment, under future risks of increased variability and more frequent scarcity of natural water resources, increased competition for access to them and tighter pinch on financial resources to fund environmental protection. It will consider, by particular reference to experience in England: · the extent to which efforts to date to strike the right balance between the needs of the environment, on the one hand, and the demand for water by people[1], on the other, can be judged to be 'on the right track', and able to cope with increased pressures from population growth, climate change and environmental care obligations; · whether the principles and practices adopted to date for defining design environmental flow regimes in general and low flow allocation models in particular may be judged to be on the right track. The paper will report results from WWF-UK's on-going programme of work to promote water resources management policies and practices that can best meet the needs of different water users -- including the environment -- in the face of diminishing and more volatile water resource availability and increasing demands for access to those resources. It will focus on the water resources allocation issues and options now under analysis and debate in England, in particular, where current problems include significant legacy over-abstraction and over-licensing of available resources, particularly in low flow spells, and cost-proportionality and affordability issues in delivering Water Framework objectives; and where government has embarked on an ambitious programme to reform the prevailing abstraction management regime to provide a water allocation and trading framework better able to deal with greater anticipated contestability for scarcer and more valuable resources. Experience from those wrestling with similar problems in Australia, the USA and elsewhere in Europe -- albeit in significantly different institutional and cultural settings -- is being examined in the search for practicable and adaptable, as well as effective and efficient solutions to managing scarce resources for net best social, economic and environmental outcomes. WWF-UK's Itchen Initiative report, published in 2012, proposed a set of 'smart' principles and approaches for managing water resources to deliver better protection for the environment, when and where needs are greatest, whilst also maximising environmentally-safe abstraction rights for other uses, subject to effective reduction and scheduling of the demand by all users. The Itchen Initiative proposed the use of tiered arrays of low flow abstraction constraints, instead of simple hands-off flow constraints (which themselves protect only 21% of river abstractions across England, currently). Modelling showed that the various tiers (which progressively limit abstraction rights as gauged flows fall to prescribed levels) can be set to provide better protection to the environment at little or no loss of yield to abstractors (compared to existing arrangements). The principles proposed in the Itchen Initiative have since been applied to the design of regulatory incentive mechanisms that promote elective management of potentially damaging abstraction, by individual abstractors, without loss of rights to abstract to licensed limits. They have also informed current considerations on the design of a reformed abstraction regime with smarter environmental protection mechanisms in play where and when they are most needed, and of how to transition legacy abstraction rights to users under the revised regime. Much needs to be done in both respects, in the on-going reform debate. The paper will address the problems that need to be resolved in designing flow regime and low flow allocation methods for multiple objectives, and for multiple users, from a technical (hydrological and hydro-ecological) perspective, and in persuading multiple users that a proposed approach could work for them and for others to individually acceptable and global net best effect. [1] broadly defined to include the demand from industry, business, agriculture and households
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