Water is the most essential of Wales’ natural resources. Natural Resources Wales is the regulatory body responsible for managing water resources in Wales. We need to balance the water needs of the environment, society and the economy, both now and in the future. We face a number of challenges which will have an impact on our water resources and the ways we manage them. These include population growth, an increased demand for water and climate change.
A duty to take action
We have a duty to take action, where necessary, to conserve, redistribute and augment water resources and to secure their proper use. We do this by entering into operating agreements with water companies (these are often referred to as Section 20 agreements). We have six reservoir operating agreements with Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water. These cover the Dee, Dwyfor, Aled, Clwyd, Tywi and Wye rivers.
Safe drinking water
Most properties and businesses in Wales are supplied with safe and reliable drinking water by water companies. However, some 30,000 properties in rural areas rely on drinking water for their own private supplies. These private supplies are regulated by Local Authority Environmental Health departments.
How we manage Wales’s water resources
We manage the amount of water taken from the environment through a permitting system and by regulating existing licences. Where appropriate, we also grant new licences. We currently regulate some 1,160 abstraction licences and 627 impoundment licences across Wales.
Applications to abstract water
Applications to abstract and/or impound water are assessed against local water availability. The approach is set out in Abstraction Licensing Strategies (ALS). These were previously known as 'Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies (CAMS)'. An 'impoundment' is a structure within inland waters that can permanently or temporarily change water level or flow.
The publication, ‘Managing water abstraction’, sets out the approach and regulatory framework within which we will manage water resources. A water abstraction licence will be needed from Natural Resources Wales to remove (abstract) more than 20 cubic metres (4,400 gallons) of water a day from a surface or ground water source in Wales. Further information on abstraction and impoundment licensing is available in the 'Permitting' section. To see how much water is available in your river catchment area and to understand the likelihood of your application being successful, please see your local Abstraction Licensing Strategy (ALS).
Sustainable and responsible abstraction
We also need to make sure that the amount of water being taken from rivers or out of the ground can be sustained without damage to the environment. In cases where water cannot be abstracted sustainably, we may need to amend existing licences, under the Restoring Sustainable Abstraction (RSA) programme. Investigations under the RSA programme have helped us identify improvements that will contribute to meeting the UK’s objectives with regard to the European Water Framework Directive (WFD).
As the Dee, Wye and Severn catchments span the Wales-England border, we will continue to work with the Environment Agency to ensure efficient and effective management of these cross-border catchments.
How we monitor Wales’s water resources
We monitor river and sea levels across Wales by collecting data from our measuring stations along rivers and coastlines.
We build up a comprehensive picture of the current water situation across Wales by using this data, along with other data provided by the Met Office, Water Companies and data provided by licensed abstractors.
The data helps us to make timely decisions about water resources management. It also enables us to state how the water situation compares with normal conditions, as part of our drought management activities. If you would like further information please, contact us by telephone on 0300 065 3000 (Mon-Fri, 8am - 6pm) or by e-mail.
Water Resources Strategy for Wales
Natural Resources Wales's document, Water Resources Strategy for Wales, sets out our vision for the management of water resources over the coming decades, to ensure that they can be abstracted and used sustainably. Implementing this strategy will ensure that there is enough water for people and the environment, both now and in the future. The strategy includes a series of actions that we believe need to be taken to deliver a secure water supply and to safeguard the environment. These actions are detailed in the associated action plan.
We also act as technical advisors to the Welsh Government and work closely with its various representatives to support the development and delivery of water policy for Wales. The Welsh Government is currently working on its Water Strategy for Wales.
The Water Strategy for Wales sets out long-term policy directions in terms of water management and aims to ensure that our water resources are resilient, sustainable and managed to bring benefits to Wales and its citizens. Using the ecosystem approach, it outlines a more integrated approach to the management of water, land and related resources which will, in turn, maximise the resulting economic and social benefits in an equitable manner. It will also protect vital ecosystems and the environment.
Future changes for Wales
The abstraction licensing system includes a number of historic exemptions which allow unconstrained water abstraction for certain purposes, such as navigation and quarry de-watering, or in certain geographical areas. In order to manage water resources in a fair and comprehensive way, these abstractions need to be considered in the licensing system. The Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environment Agency jointly consulted on the intended approach to bring about the necessary changes to the water abstraction licensing system in early 2016.
Eighty six responses were received to the consultation. The consultation and summary of consultation responses was published on 29th September 2016.
We currently expect to publish the response to the consultation and provide details of the final approach by early 2017.
Discover Water Dashboard
Customers can now quickly and easily see how their water company is performing and compare it to other companies. The information can be found on http://discoverwater.co.uk/ and has a comprehensive range of data covering water quality, public health, customer service and environmental aspects of water and sewerage services.