The report summarises the 119 Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies (CAMS) the Agency completed last year. It shows that 15% of catchments are already over-abstracted, causing damage to the environment at times of low flow.
A further 18% of catchments are over-licensed. If existing licences were used to their full allocation they could cause “unacceptable environmental damage”, the Agency says.
Further licensing is impossible during low flows for 35% of catchments, the studies found. The report reveals that these catchments are located all over England and Wales, not just the South East and Eastern England, which are usually seen as the most water-stressed areas of the UK. Just 32% of catchments have water available at the driest times of year.
Such low levels of water availability continue, the Agency notes, despite the fact that abstractions for public water supply have changed little since 2000 and abstractions to support electricity generation have declined significantly.
Compared to the rest of Europe, water resources are under greater stress only in Mediterranean countries such as Cyprus, Malta, Spain and Italy.
The Agency cites population growth as one of the biggest pressures. Population has risen rapidly in the past decade and is forecast to accelerate. The population in some regions is expected to increase by over 40% and many of the growth points are in areas where the water resources are already stressed, the Agency notes. It expects to publish a strategy outlining how these problems should be tackled in the spring.