The CLA (Country Land and Business Association) has responded to Defra’s consultation, Improving the Management of Water in the Environment, highlighting that there is no justification to ending compensation for changes in water abstraction licenses.

Instead, the response argues that any variation of licenses to abstract water should be used as a last resort with water companies encouraged to reduce leakages, consumers pushed to be more efficient, and farmers urged to trade water and invest in winter storage facilities, first.

The consultation follows commitments made by the government for clean and plentiful water and to reduce the risks of harm from environmental hazards, as set out in the 25-Year Plan on the Environment.

In addition, the water industry is to invest £50 billion over the next five years to improve water quality and drought resilience across the UK.

Susan Twining, CLA’s chief land use policy advisor said: “While we wouldn’t condone unsustainable abstraction of water by any means, and support the collaborative efforts to address the problems, it is simply wrong for the government to propose revoking licenses without proper redress.

Many of these licenses have been in place for decades, form a vital part of many businesses’ asset base and it is only fair that they should generate full compensation for commercial losses if taken away.

The CLA’s response also highlights concerns over the importance of fresh water to efficient crop and livestock production.

While water use is complex and with many end-users and stakeholders, the CLA argues that Defra should be taking into account the needs of farmers and landowners and water for food should be classified as an “essential use”.

Twining added: “Given the importance of food production, as well as the growing concerns around climate and health pushing demand for locally grown fruit and vegetables, water for food production should be equal in status to water for public supply.

"This would mean added protection in drought situations, additional investment and research in water management and the building of resilience through better winter storage.”