East Suffolk Groundwater Abstraction Maps (1/2): information sheet
IMPORTANT NOTICE: PLEASE READ THIS DOCUMENT BEFORE ACCESSING THE MAP GALLERY
Abstraction is currently unsustainable in many of East Suffolk’s rivers and streams. The purpose of these maps is to provide information to abstractors on the scale of potential reductions in groundwater abstraction required to return flows to sustainable levels in East Suffolk’s rivers and streams. This information will help support abstractors to plan ways to mitigate and adapt to water scarcity.
Why are reductions in groundwater abstraction required?
Many of our wetlands, rivers and streams are fed to varying degrees by water stored in the ground in aquifers. Abstracting water from these aquifers can reduce water levels in wetlands, and flows into rivers and streams (surface water bodies). In some cases this can impact on the ecology or wildlife and habitats we would expect to see. The Environment Agency has a statutory duty1 to ensure that abstraction is sustainable and our rivers and streams are adequately protected. We will reduce abstraction where it is impacting on ecology.
The Fix-it Tool (*)
We need to keep a proportion of natural flow in our rivers to protect and sustain the animals and plants that live within them, this is known as the Ecological Flow Indicator (EFI). If we consider the flip side of that, taking this proportion out allows us to work out how much water is left for abstraction. It is important to know that some habitats or animals, trout perhaps, require more water so the EFI may vary in different water bodies to to protect them. Compliance with the EFI is assessed at the outflow or downstream end of water bodies. Here, we have used the Fix-it Tool to suggest how much groundwater abstractions would need to be reduced by across all sectors to achieve the EFI at low flows in all surface water bodies. This indicates the scale of changes to groundwater licences that could be required. These volumes are only indicative as the Fix-it Tool uses high level information and does not account for climate change, growth, policy and legislation changes, or local ecology, sites or issues. We are also only looking at the impacts of abstraction at low flows and at the bottom of water bodies, in the future more protection may be required across the full range of flows and along the length of water bodies.
No Deterioration and Time Limited Licences
The Environment Agency also have a statutory duty to ensure that the condition of water bodies does not deteriorate from their current status. We assess the condition of surface water flows and aquifers based on the volume of water abstracted during a reference period. This status is published in a River Basin Management Plan. If abstractors were to abstract more of their licensed volumes than they did during the reference period the condition of water bodies could deteriorate. To prevent this we need to ensure that the level of abstraction does not increase by reducing licensed volumes. Currently, we are only reducing the licensed volumes on permanent public water supply licences and Time Limited Licences (TLL), however from 1 January 2028 we will have increased powers under the Environment Act 2021 to tackle all unsustainable abstraction, including all permanent licences.
The groundwater TLL reductions shown on the maps are based on the minimum likely reductions in groundwater licensed volumes across all sectors; reducing Spray Irrigation licensed volumes to the maximum annual volume abstracted between 2000-2015 and reducing other licences to the maximum annual volume abstracted between 2005-2015. It is likely that more restrictive reductions will be required in some water bodies to prevent deterioration. These reductions are separate to those that may be required to reduce abstraction to sustainable levels.
What about surface water abstraction?
We will also assess the impacts of surface water abstractions on rivers and streams. The impacts of surface waters abstraction on flows are seen instantaneously. This means we can add Hands of Flow or Level conditions to licences. These restrict abstraction to times when there is enough water in the river or stream. We will add or adjust these conditions on licences to achieve sustainable flows and prevent deterioration. In some cases reductions in licensed surface water abstraction volumes will also be required. These are not assessed by the Fix-It tool and are not included in these maps.
21 detailed maps have been created for the East Suffolk catchment, you can view them all in the map gallery here.