Water/Wastewater

  • What Is Water Abstraction?

What Is Water Abstraction?

Mar 05 2021 Read 506 Times

As the most precious resource on our planet that is crucial to sustaining all lifeforms, it’s no surprise that water is in high demand. One of the principal ways of accessing H2O is through abstraction. Simply put, this refers to the process of extracting water from any natural source, such as a lake, aquifer, river, stream or spring.

Water abstraction is most commonly used for irrigation, with over two-thirds (71%) of all of the freshwater on planet Earth diverted towards agricultural purposes. However, there are plenty of other reasons why water is abstracted, including treatment for use as drinking water and manifold industrial applications.

Legal regulation

Since water is a finite resource in plentiful demand, it must be tightly regulated by the authorities to ensure that there is enough to go around. For that reason, most businesses which draw over 20,000 litres of water from natural sources on a daily basis must obtain a license to do so. This license will dictate how much and how frequently water can be drawn from a source by any given enterprise.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of unscrupulous actors out there who illegally tap water sources without a license or requisite monitoring infrastructure in place. Indeed, the World Bank have reported that around 48.6 million cubic metres of potable water escape from regulated supply networks each year. That’s enough to slake the thirsts of some 200 million people. Unsurprisingly, the issue is most pronounced in developing countries, where up to 50% of all treated water goes missing.

The importance of agriculture

Given that farming consumes the majority of freshwater supplies in the world, the agricultural-water interface is absolutely crucial to our environment. On the one hand, the farming industry would cease to survive without enough water to meet its needs, thus leading to food shortages and widespread famine and hunger. On the other hand, agriculture is not only the chief consumer of water in the world, but also contributes to deforestation and climate change too, thus harming the environment even further.

With that in mind, responsible monitoring of water abstraction in agriculture is crucial to keeping this delicate balance act in equilibrium. Farmers must collect data on how much water they abstract and from which sources, not only to demonstrate their compliance with the terms of their license, but also to inform the decisions of the wider farming community with regard to safeguarding water supplies in the long run.

Improvements needed

In the UK, the government has freely admitted that its current water abstraction regulations are outdated and in need of an overhaul. The main concerns with the current system are that it allows for certain actors to abstract water via unsustainable means, while its paper-based nature is also inefficient and damages the environment.

Perhaps the biggest problem with current legislation, however, lies with its inflexibility in the face of an increasingly uncertain climate. With extreme weather events more likely to occur than ever before, farmers and other businesses must have recourse to additional resources to mitigate the effects of natural disasters and keep their operations running smoothly. As such, the government has its work cut out in introducing a fairer and more sustainable system that is fit for purpose in the 21st century and beyond.


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