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Water Resources: Balancing Supply and Demand workshop


Date: 13:30-17:00 on Thurs 1 October 2015.
Location: Nr Saffron Walden, Essex, CB11 4NF.

Co-hosted by Agri-Tech East, Anglian Water and the Agritech Water Cluster, the event was aimed at farmers and landowners and offered a practical insight into:

  • The challenges that industry and agriculture both face in terms of water availability.
  • Industry decision making.
  • Investment options to meet the growing demand for water in our region.


Government policy requires that water companies produce robust plans to mitigate long-term water supply and demand from growth, climate change and environmental protection. These plans outline how water companies propose to maintain a sustainable balance between water supply and demand in the future.

To meet and surpass these requirements, collaboration is required between water companies, the EA, Natural England and other stakeholders to develop a long-term water resource strategy for the Anglian region.

  • Do you understand how water companies make strategic decisions?
  • Do you know what is considered in Water Resource Management Plans?
  • Are you making important business decisions to ensure future water availability?
  • What are your barriers to ensure future investment?
  • Are there opportunities to work together?


Event report

On 1 October 2015 around 30 people, including farmers and innovators, joined staff from Anglian Water and the University of East Anglia at the Water Supply and Demand workshop. The event was run by Agri-Tech East and was held in a fantastic historical barn, hosted by Russell Smith farms in Essex.


The scale of the global water resources challenge

Professor Kevin Hiscock from the Agritech Water Cluster, set the scene by outlining the scale of the global water resources challenge, including a slide from Martin Collison on the zones of the world which are too dry (40%), too cold (21%), too wet (21%), too hilly (6%) or too barren (2%) to allow further agricultural production. So that is most of the world. Which makes it clear that we need to make the most of the food producing areas we have now.

But these food producing areas are under pressure. Kevin pointed out that places like the high plains of the USA and the Upper Ganges in India, draw on a water area more than 3 times the spatial area of the production zone. So agriculture needs more water, but in the future, with climate change, it’s likely that less water will be available. Bringing the focus then back the UK and the East of England, Professor Kevin Hiscock from the Agritech Water Cluster, said

Adaptation to climate change impacts requires the engagement of local communities in solving local problems and the development of sustainable water abstraction.

Download the pdf of Kevin’s talk here KH_ScaleOfWaterResourcesChallenge


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Water resource planning

The next part of the event was run by Hannah Stanley-Jones and Steve Moncaster from Anglian Water.

Following the approach taken by Anglian Water when planning their own water assets, each group was asked to select a user of water from the agricultural sector (this could be at the scale of one farm or the area covered by an abstractor group), which formed the basic planning unit.

We then had to note the total volume of water available, from reservoirs, ground water and river water abstraction and compared this to the total amount used. Of course this can vary hugely between years on any one farm, depending on the weather and crops grown and will vary between the seasons.

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So far, so good. Then things got more difficult.

We then looked ahead to the future; we picked 10 years ahead as a time period where significant changes could be expected. We thought about the drivers for change including growth in demand and likelihood of reduced amounts of water being available from rivers and groundwater, as abstraction licence amounts are reduced due to climate change and to meet legislation such as the water framework and habitats directives. Of course, its really hard to say how big these changes might be, but the farming experts on our table were pretty sure that the reductions would be significant in terms of volume with big impacts on the business.

We then considered the options available to meet these changes; either by reducing demand or increasing supply. But how?


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Water Resources East Anglia project

After a tea-break, Hannah Stanley-Jones, Water Resources Development Manager for Anglian Water introduced the Water Resources East Anglia project.

The project is led by Anglian Water and already involves many partners in the region, including Essex and Suffolk Water, Affinity Water, Severn Trent Water, Thames Water, Suffolk County Council, the NFU and the Environment Agency.

The project aims to engage holistically across sectors to deliver a reliable, sustainable and affordable system of water supply in the Anglian region, which is resilient to the effects of climate change, population growth and multi-season drought. The project aims is to

  • To support economic growth and the rural economy.
  • Develop holistic plans that mitigate environmental risk from growth in demand, climate change and multi-season drought.
  • Create joined up thinking that will reduce costs and increase affordability.


Hannah explained that Anglian Water are keen to understand future agricultural demand and supply options and will shortly be starting a consultation with specific users.

Following the introduction to the Water Resources East Anglia project, Professor Kevin Hiscock asked each table to discuss our responses to the project, and to consider

  • Is the holistic approach a good way forward?
  • Is it realistic?
  • Is it affordable and how are the costs of potential investments shared in the project?
  • Who should be involved?


There was a wide variety of responses to the project; most people were strongly supportive of the initiative and welcomed the approach to wider stakeholder inclusion. Farmers highlighted their commercial concerns, that their business relies on water and that a secure water resource allows a farmer to differentiate from competitors, permits business planning (e.g. growing to contract and tenanting land) and secures investment for growth.

It was recognised that it is very difficult to represent the needs of farmers as one stakeholder within the project, as the sizes and activities of farms are extremely diverse. For the holistic approach to truly work there needs to be trust and transparency plus the opportunity for sustained involvement as the project develops.

With many thanks to Dr Trudie Dockerty, Eve MacKinnon, Vyvyan Evans and Nicola Martens for taking notes and helping to run the event.

Image credit: Grafham Water. With thanks to Sunchild57 on flickr.