Making agricultural water supplies more resilient

08 Mar 2018

Extracting water from alternative sources such as disused wells, bore holes or rivers and streams can give farmers access to thousands of litres of additional water that can be used instead of or to supplement mains supplies.

Disruption caused by the recent bad weather combined with new rules around the use of water by farmers, which are due to be introduced by Defra on April 2, mean that now is a good opportunity for the agricultural sector to review existing water supply arrangements and to consider investing in alternative supplies.
Around 20 cubic metres of water can usually be removed per day without an abstraction licence, a volume which is worth around £14,000 a year in Devon and Cornwall. As well as increasing the resilience of the water supply in the event of extreme cold weather conditions, it also means that additional water is available during periods of hot weather in the summer when animals and crops may require extra watering.

Dairy cows and other livestock need an ample supply of good, clean water to promote good health and encourage uptake of nutrients from their diet, so it is essential that water is not only supplied in sufficient quantity but also of good quality. Inadequate water quality can lead to reduced milk yields, growth and can impact on animal health. Whatever the weather, using alternative water sources means that savings can be made from water bills as a good quality supply can be extracted from traditional water sources. These can include boreholes, disused wells, springs, rivers, lakes or rainwater harvest to either replace or supplement mains water. Storage tanks mean that abstraction water can be used as needed, giving additional resilience in the event of bad weather.

Many farms will have extracted water from these sources in the past, before mains water was available, so re-establishing the supply is often a straightforward process. In most cases a private water supply can represent one of the best investments a farm can make, with dairy farms often getting a payback within 12 months.
Nigel Ponsford, Key Account Manager for Agriculture with South West Water Business, said: “Farms would always have been built with access to springs, wells, rivers or streams because hundreds of years ago there was no mains water supply to them. We can investigate how water would have been sourced in the past and can often restablish this supply to provide a reliable, alternative water supply that will lower bills and give peace of mind to farmers in the event of extreme weather conditions.

“We specialise in working with farmers to help them to use water more efficiently. We can help farmers to look at how they use water and advise on how alternative water sources can reduce their consumption of resources which will reduce their bills.” 

Tips for farmers when considering an alternative supply:
  • Consider how supplies were obtained in the past – do you have wells, springs, streams, lakes or rivers that are no longer in use?
  • Look at how you use mains water. Are you using it for things like washing down yards which does not require mains water quality?
  • Be aware of Defra’s new ‘farming rules for water’ which come into force from April 2 2018 for all farmers in England. The rules aim to protect and improve rivers and ground water. See
  • Consider using water saving devices such as trigger shut offs on hoses to reduce your consumption
  • Consider taking expert advice on how your site could use alternative water sources 
South West Water Business has expertise in investigating and installing alternative water sources from reinstating disused wells and drilling boreholes through to sampling water and installing filtration devices to make sure that water meets the quality required. For more information log onto or telephone 0330 0415567.