The Environment Agency (EA) has significantly slashed its water-use inspections over the past five years, raising concerns about the state of water resources and the environment. According to data obtained by the Guardian and Watershed Investigations, EA officers visited people and businesses with water abstraction licenses 4,539 times in 2018-19, but this number dropped to 2,303 inspections in 2022-23.
This reduction in inspections comes at a time when England is facing a potential water deficit of 4 billion liters per day by 2050, with some rivers predicted to see a decrease in summer flows by up to 80% in that time. Despite these alarming predictions, the EA has chosen to cut back on inspections, which experts argue is highly beneficial to water companies and agriculture but detrimental to water resources and the environment.
The introduction of desk-based inspections by the EA has also been met with criticism. These inspections, which are intended to assess compliance of low-risk abstraction and impounding licenses, have been described as meaningless by an EA insider. The insider argues that they serve as a mere substitute for field inspections and lack the necessary checks and balances to ensure accurate reporting.
These changes in inspection practices raise concerns about detecting illegal activity and gathering evidence against offenders. By reducing inspections, the ability to monitor and regulate water use effectively is compromised, potentially leading to unchecked illegal abstraction activities.
The data reveals significant drops in inspections in various regions, including the Kent, south London, and East Sussex area, where inspections fell by 67% between 2018-19 and 2022-23. Similar declines were observed in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire, East Anglia, and the Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire area.
While the EA spokesperson argues that inspection figures alone do not provide a comprehensive assessment of compliance, critics maintain that the reduction in inspections reflects a lack of priority given to protecting water supplies and suggests that funding could be better utilized in frontline efforts.
Why has the Environment Agency reduced water-use inspections?
The Environment Agency has reduced water-use inspections as part of changes in their monitoring practices. They argue that inspection figures alone are not the only way to assess compliance, and they have introduced desk-based inspections and other monitoring systems to target activity where and when the risks are highest.
What are the concerns raised by this reduction in inspections?
Critics argue that reducing inspections compromises the ability to detect illegal water abstraction activities and gather necessary evidence. It raises concerns about the accurate monitoring and regulation of water resources, ultimately putting them at risk.
Which regions experienced the largest drops in inspections?
According to data obtained by the Guardian and Watershed Investigations, the Kent, south London, and East Sussex area experienced the largest drop in inspections, followed by Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire, East Anglia, and the Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire area.
Are water companies taking action to address the environmental impact of water abstraction?
Water companies claim to be aware of the environmental impact of water abstraction and have proposed plans to reduce abstractions from rivers and cut leakage. They are also considering alternative water supplies such as water recycling and desalination to ensure the security of water supply in the future.