UK water resources are under considerable pressure, with many areas being severely affected, not just the south and east, in dry periods there was very little or no water available for abstraction. Future predictions indicate that these extremes will become more prevalent due to climate change and over development.
There are self-sufficient and sustainable alternatives that will reduce the vulnerability of your business being reliant on a strained resource and the increasing costs of mains water.
Agriculture as an industry uses around 180 million cubic metres (m3) per year, according to research conducted by Defra in 2011. This is broken down into crop irrigation 42% and livestock water 40%.
Our rivers are in trouble. Around 1,075, 11% of our total bodies of water in England and Wales are not able to support a good ecological status due to reduced flow of our rivers. The main cause of this issue with our water courses is due to increased abstraction reducing water quality due to a reduced water flow. Less water flow means less dilution of pollutants. The likely outcome is that abstraction policies will be tightened, especially in worst hit areas.
Our climate is changing an increasingly warmer climate and less rainfall in summer is expected to increase the demand for irrigation and livestock‘s requirement for water. This increased demand due to changing climate and over development will cause tightening legislation on abstraction rules and the cost of abstraction licences.
Reduced water supply from increased demand will increase the likelihood of low pressure and availability through the summer droughts and restrictions or bans on irrigation will be brought in.
Irrigation water is absorbed by crops or evaporates unlike domestically used water which returns to the drainage system to be treated and returned to surface water, which assists maintain water levels.
Water scarcity will increase the cost of the limited supply of water from mains water supply. The likelihood of this affecting the cost of many agricultural commodities that utilise water in production is obviously very high.
Water costs released by Defra in 2011 put the average cost of mains water alone is £1.17/m3 with vast variations by river basin catchments varying from £0.95/m3 in the South East and Cumbria, up to £1.50/m3 in the South West.
Mains water has risen in cost by over 38% in the last 20 years. This cost increase has been a large part due to the necessity of upgrading the ageing infrastructure of the water industry that is still in place throughout the UK and still is being updated across the country. This is also a reflection of the rising water treatment costs as our water courses become increasingly contaminated.
Solutions for Agriculture Water Management
Auditing your farm water usage
Assessing how much water your currently using, where and what for is a good place to start to find efficient improvements for water sustainability. The first place to start is to review your mains water bills for the last two or three years:
- Last 2 or 3 years water bills
- Any abstraction licenses held
- Quantity of water abstracted
- Type of farm, amount of livestock
Harvesting rainwater from the roofs of farm and equestrian buildings offers a sustainable, self-sufficient alternative to mains water. Using chlorine dioxide water treatment to disinfect the rainwater ensures it is optimum quality to improve feed conversion in ruminants and to be used for dairy wash downs, crop irrigation or any requirements necessary.
Chlorine dioxide treated water also enables the water to be stored in water storage, such as water tanks for long periods of time without risk of contamination. Which allows farms to store water for times of drought or shortages.
Water pumps can then be used to pump the water to where it’s required offering you a highly sustainable alternative to mains water, with a return on investment of around 36 months and then a far cheaper more reliable water management solution.