Farmers urged to use water wisely

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With the current spell of warm and dry weather continuing, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has urged businesses, councils and farmers to use water wisely and be aware of regulations for drawing water from source.

Rivers, lakes and wetlands are key features of the landscape, which support diverse and internationally important habitats of plant and animal life. In order to protect plants, animals and to manage the use of water resources, the licensing of abstractions (taking water from a water source) and impoundments (a pool of water formed by a dam or pond) to supply water for livestock or wildlife, are important and necessary.

The Water Abstraction and Impoundment (Licensing) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006, came fully into force in February 2007. These regulations establish a management system for the use of water within industry and agriculture, and, at the same time, support the protection of NI’s water based ecosystems.

As this period of warm and dry weather continues the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has streamlined its procedures to more rapidly respond to farmers, small businesses and local councils who have an urgent need of water at this time. Where the protection of a crop needs irrigation, animals require drinking water, or a new recreational area needs sprinklers to be established, then NIEA will do its best to assist.

Dependant on the daily volume required the following actions can be taken;

Under the current legislation, if a business / farm needs up to 10,000 litres per day (2,200 gallons), then that is automatically permitted and the activity can proceed. If this low volume abstraction is to be taken from a waterway or lake, then the abstractor will be asked to install a still well. Pumping from a still well will prevent animal life or fish from being impacted. Advice on how to do this will be provided by NIEA.

If a business, farm or local council requires a daily volume between 10,000 and 20,000 litres or 2,200 to 4,400 gallons per day, then the business, farm or council will need to notify NIEA and indicate by map or grid reference where the proposed abstraction point is to be. There is no fee for this notification and NIEA will respond to you in writing.

If a business, farm or local council requires greater than 20,000 litres (4,400 gallons) per day then a full licence is required. An authorisation like this can be granted for a seasonal period. The application fee for this type of full authorisation is £157.

Lactating dairy cows yielding 14L/day need 60-80 litres/day of water. Those yielding up to 36L require 80-100L/day, while cows milking 45L/day need 130-155L.

As a general rule of thumb, lactating dairy cows must have ad-lib access to drinking water. These animals cannot afford to be without it.

Up to 80 to 90% of the water requirements of milking cows are met by drinking water and 30 to 50% of their water needs is consumed in the first hour after milking.

Dairy cows can drink quickly - up to 14 litres/minute. So it is important that the on-farm infrastructure and water flow rates are adequate to meet the demands of the herd.

Dry cows need up to 55L/day, calves require 20-25L, beef cattle (300kg) need 20-25L/day, cattle close to finishing (600kg) need 35-60L, depending on the system, and stock on high concentrate diets need up to 70L/day.