It never rains but it pours – a legal look at water shortages


It’s certainly been a year of two halves weather-wise, which has been far from ideal for the agricultural sector.

The first four months of 2018 highlighted flooding and the months of May, June and July have certainly brought to mind the potential of drought.

Steven Corfield, Partner and Agricultural specialist, looks at the legalities surrounding potential hosepipe bans:

The prospect of hosepipe bans soon focuses us on our dependence on water. In 1945 there were more than 1,000 bodies involved in water supply (mainly local authorities) and more than 1,400 bodies responsible for sewerage and sewage disposal.

The industry was consolidated by the Water Act 1973 which established 10 regional water authorities and was intended to be a fully integrated business. But capital infrastructure was lacking and in 1989 the then Government privatised the industry in an attempt to rectify this. 

At times of drought, water companies have the power to restrict water use and can do so by imposing bans and restrictions on the use of hosepipes and sprinklers if there is a serious shortage of water. 

The bans and restrictions must first be approved by the Government. Notice of a ban or restriction has to be advertised in local newspapers and if these rules are breached there can be a criminal offence and fines imposed. 

Companies do have the ability to allow exemptions, for instance for the elderly or disabled.

If after the hosepipe ban has been imposed there is still a water shortage companies can consider applying for a Drought Order from the government. 

Ordinary Drought Orders are useful to limit specific activities such as car washing or watering gardens. These can be for six months and less and can be extended for up to a year.  

An Emergency Drought Order limits the supply water and makes alternative arrangements for the supply of water such as by erecting standpipes in streets. These orders are for three months or less but can be extended by a further two months. 

Drought orders must be advertised in the local newspapers and explain objections can be made to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England or the National Assembly for Wales.

Non-mains water such as rivers and boreholes are controlled by The Environment Agency, which has regulatory powers to manage water availability to maintain essential supplies for people and the environment

These controls extend to limiting use of borehole pumping and extraction of water from the rivers, lakes and other water sources. Organisations such as inland drainage boards and British Waterways also have power to control water supplies.

Steven is Principal Development Partner for Agricultural Business. He is a Fellow of the Agricultural Law Association and serves on the Shropshire Committee of Country Landowners Association and the CLA National Sub-Committee for Legal, Parliamentary and Property Rights.

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