The majority of water abstractions in the UK are from surface freshwaters and groundwater for use in public water supply, with relatively few from estuarine and coastal waters.
The major saline abstractions provide cooling water for power stations. A large power station may abstract up to 40 cubic metres per second or more during peak load. Other types of saline abstraction include fish farms and fish processing factories, passive and pumped navigation abstractions (to maintain water levels in impounded docks), ballast water abstractions and abstractions associated with certain dredging activities, such as hydraulic dredging.
Power stations abstract water for cooling
© Environment Agency
The various environment agencies throughout the UK license abstractions from inland waters and groundwater. This includes some saline abstractions as inland waters include estuaries, embayments and arms of the sea. Historically, navigation abstractions and abstractions associated with dredging activities in saline waters have been exempt from licensing. Some modifications to these exemptions are being proposed as part of the implementation of the abstraction provisions of the Water Act 2003 but such activities will remain largely exempt.
Environmental concerns relate to the impingement of fish, invertebrates and algae. Risk assessments made under the EU Water Framework Directive indicate that no water bodies are considered to be ‘at risk’ of failing the Directive in this respect, although nine sites are ‘probably at risk’.
It is difficult to calculate the contribution to the economy associated with saline abstractions, although it is clear that they are fundamental to sustaining several major economic activities. The annual market value of electricity sales from coastal power stations is in the region of £5 billion to £10 billion. Coastal power stations with ‘once through’ cooling water systems have an energy efficiency advantage over air-cooled power stations, of the order of 2%. On this basis it could be argued that the specific value to the economy of coastal power generation was of the order of £100 million to £200 million per annum. No indicative values were identified for ancillary or secondary activities.
The amount of water abstracted for industrial purposes has remained relatively constant over time and it is likely that the requirement for coastal water abstraction will continue at the same levels. While many coastal power stations are due to be decommissioned over the next two decades, a series of new coastal nuclear power stations may be developed.