Water and sewerage services

Supporting detail:

Water resource management (current system)

Managing future water needs

The law says that water companies have to supply potable (good to drink) water to all homes in England and Wales.

Water companies are also legally obliged to produce a plan every 5 years showing how they will:

  • manage the needs of future populations

  • deal with climate change

  • develop - where needed - new water supply resources such as reservoirs

Most water companies are planning to publish the final version of their latest plans (covering 2015 to 2040) later in 2014. The companies will begin consulting on their next plans in 2018.

You can read the water companies’ current water resources plans on their websites.

Water abstraction management

Water abstraction means removing water from water-bodies. These include lakes, rivers or aquifers.

Most water abstraction needs a licence from the Environment Agency.

The Environment Agency also has guidance on impounding licences. You’ll usually need an impounding licence if you want to construct, alter or operate a dam or weir.

Abstraction or impoundment licences contain conditions that protect the environment, other abstractors and water users. The Environment Agency carries out on-site inspections and checks that licence holders are complying with the conditions in their abstraction or impoundment licence.

If an abstraction is causing or could cause damage to the environment, the Environment Agency may make a proposal to change it or revoke it. If the Environment Agency finds someone is not complying with their licence, action will range from giving advice and guidance to prosecuting in the most serious cases.

Defra and the Welsh Government are working with the Environment Agency, Ofwat, and other partners to reform the water abstraction system. The system hasn’t changed substantially since the 1960s. Read more about abstraction reform.


Despite our reputation as a rainy country, we have to be prepared for drought.

All water companies are legally required to produce drought plans. You can read these on the water companies’ websites.

During a drought, water companies can restrict non-essential use of water. These are commonly known as hosepipe bans. The relevant legislation for these water restrictions can be found in:

Water companies may also apply for either a drought permit or a drought order to allow them to restrict demand for water or to maintain public water supplies. Drought permits allow companies to take water from new sources. They can also alter restrictions on existing abstractions.

Drought orders can go further in restricting non-essential use of water. The Drought Direction 2011 lists the uses of water which can be banned under an ordinary drought order.

The Environment Agency (EA) has a duty to manage water resources in England.

The Environment Agency routinely measures, monitors and reports on the water situation across England. This helps them to assess the national and local water situation and the prospects of any water shortages for the environment.

During a drought the Environment Agency:

  • increases monitoring plans to make sure that they continue to protect the environment from harm
  • makes sure that water companies and other water users do not take too much water and that they are following their drought plans
  • deals with drought permit applications to allow water companies to continue supplying water during a drought whilst limiting the impact on the environment
  • reports on the state of water resources during a drought to the public, government and our partners
  • co-ordinates a communications and media strategy to ensure the correct messages are being communicated to the areas affected by the drought

Drought plans

The Environment Agency has drought plans for England. They set out how the Environment Agency will manage water resources for the environment and people during a drought. These plans aim to balance the interests of the environment, business and public water supply. They help the EA and water users to make the right decisions at the right time.