Norfolk Sustainable Abstraction programme | BAWAG | Broadland Agricultural Water Abstractors Group

Our members recently voted to set up & run a Norfolk-wide programme of work to understand where more water is needed in Norfolk to meet environmental needs and where this might affect abstraction.  Our members recognise that Norfolk is home to iconic wetland and Chalk stream habitats and that these have to be protected so that they remain for future generations.  The challenge is to reconcile this with the water needed for successful food and farming businesses in the County.  Our new programme, the Norfolk Sustainable Abstraction programme, is an important step in doing this.


One of BAWAGs goals is to secure access to reliable, affordable & sustainable water supplies.

The Norfolk Sustainable Abstraction (NSA) programme will do this by working with the Environment Agency and others to support implementation of the Broads Plan and the National Framework for Water Resources, as well as the transition from licences to the Environmental Permitting Regime (EPR).  This includes any updates to Abstraction Licence Strategies in Norfolk.  The NSA programme is designed to:

  • Set-up a Norfolk-wide network of agrifood water resource Planning Groups, composed of BAWAG members who abstract from the same catchment,  sub-catchment or water body.  These will support abstractors with technical water resource planning matters & in their dealings with the Environment Agency.
  • Help each Planning Group prepare a Water Resource Management Plan (WRMP) and a Drought Plan.  These will help abstractors manage their abstraction-related risk, including planning for any related investment in new, more sustainable sources of supply.  The WRMPs & Drought Plans will be based on templates developed by the EA/NFU supported Water for Food Group (WfFG).

The NSA work is currently programmed for 2023/25 and will be concentrated in the Broadland catchment & Chalk catchments in north and north-west Norfolk.  

Success for the NSA programme will be the ability to secure the water we need for our businesses while, at the same time, conserving & protecting the water-dependent habitats and species that make Norfolk such a special place to live.  Key ideas include:

  • Ensuring that all decisions are based on the best available evidence and are technically robust and defensible.
  • Identifying & exploring all possible options for meeting environmental and abstractor need
  • Helping abstractors to work together, and with the Environment Agency and others, to pick the best option(s), and
  • Handing over delivery of the selected options to abstractors at the point when the related discussions become commercially sensitive.

NSA Work Package 1

The NSA programme has been split into a number of separate workstreams, in large part mirroring the Environment Agency programme for the Broads Plan and the National Framework for Water Resources. 

The NSA work will be completed using the Environment Agency Northern East Anglian Chalk (NEAC) numerical groundwater flow model.  This model, which simulates the effect of climate and abstraction on water levels and flow in catchments in East Anglia, is used by the Environment Agency to support decisions which are taken about licences.

To help us prepare for the main programme of technical work, we will complete a small piece of preparatory work known as Work Package 1 (WP1).  There are two main elements to WP1:

  • Catchments in Norfolk will be screened to determine the level of abstraction-related environmental risk.  Outputs from this work will be used to organize the BAWAG members into Planning Groups.  These groups will be the principal means of involving abstractors in work on the NSA program.
  • In combination with the above, a specification for the NSA model runs will be developed.  This process will involve using NEAC to explore the effect of model sensitivities on the thresholds used to define sustainable levels of abstraction.  The aim is to ensure that future licensing decisions are based on the best possible technical methods and that the effect of uncertainty in decision-making is minimized.

Following this work, a detailed NSA Project Plan will be prepared.  This will contain the following:

  • Need assessment, and related statement of aims & objective
  • Detailed specification for the technical work
  • Program (GANTT Chart) with milestones & deadlines
  • Budget & future funding assessment
  • Risk & Issues log, and
  • Protocols for managing program delivery.

A final draft version of the Project Plan will be shared with the Environment Agency at a “Technical Methods Workshop”, with a view to agreeing the approach that we’re going to use.   Following discussion & feedback, a final version of the Plan will be prepared.  This will then used to manage delivery of the rest of the programme.

Programme Overview

Key NSA milestones include:

  •  May 2023 to October 2023: Preliminary NEAC work & formation of Planning Groups
  •  July 2023 to March 2024: Complete Chalk catchment agri-WRMPs for abstractors in north & north-west Norfolk.
  •    October 2023 to May 2024: Complete main modelling work for Bure & Thurne, and
  •   March 2023 to September 2024: Complete main modelling work for Yare & Waveney.


If you have any questions about the NSA programme, or would like to learn more, please contact Dr Steve Moncaster, our Membership & Technical Advisor:

If you are an abstractor in Norfolk interested in the programme or in BAWAG membership, we’d be especially pleased to hear from you.