Ground-breaking new survey highlights major impacts for businesses that abstract water

Water Resources West (WRW) has released the results of a new survey, “A thirst for collaboration”, to understand the water resources issues faced by businesses with water abstraction licences. This is the first ever survey of its kind and highlights some real issues, but also a desire from abstractors to work together locally to improve water resources.

Back in 2019, Sir James Bevan, then Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, talked about the “jaws of death – the point where we will not have enough water to supply our needs, unless we take action to change things”. This is often understood to apply to water companies, who have well developed plans underpinned by extensive customer research to make sure the companies are delivering what their customers want. It equally applies to many other businesses that abstract water from rivers, lakes and from underground. These underpin vital parts of our economy: energy, food and a range of industries.

Until now, there has been no comprehensive survey to inform water resources planning for those sectors.

The survey went out to 2,500 non-public water supply abstractors, and results from those that responded reveal that:

  • One third of abstractors say their business is already constrained by the amount of water they can abstract
  • Nearly 40% of abstractors were affected by drought last year
  • Three-quarters of businesses would experience a major or significant impact if their abstraction licence was reduced by 25%
  • 94% of abstractors think their water use will increase by 2050
  • Only 1% of abstractors are currently part of a local abstractors group, but over two-thirds of abstractors show an interest in working with others

In 2022, parts of the UK experienced record-breaking temperatures, dry soils and low river flows, and WRW were keen to learn about the experience of other abstractors last year, and whether they have made plans for future droughts. The responses show that 39% of abstractors were affected by the 2022 drought, but only a small proportion (6%) of those affected by drought asked their local water company for help and only 9% of abstractors have ever resorted to a water company supply. Among those affected by drought in 2022, still only half have plans for drought.

Richard Blackwell, Director of Water Resources West, says:

“We were fortunate that our colleagues at the Environment Agency were able to assist us in contacting abstractors in our region. Our role as WRW is to support collaborative planning so that all sectors can have access to the water that they need, in a way that protects the environment. We were encouraged that over two-thirds of abstractors showed an interest in working with others. These results are extremely useful to inform the work we will need to undertake together.”

Paul Henderson, who leads non-PWS work for WRW continues:

“Carrying out additional engagement off the back of the survey results, with abstraction license holders in the region, has provided a deeper understanding of the challenges that all sectors are facing. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with abstractors across the region to improve water resource sustainability”.

The full “A thirst for collaboration” report can be found at



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