Farm Management Technical Factsheets from FWAG

Water Management Plans


Water is vital for everyday life. In Britain it is often freely available, however at some times of the year it can be a scarce commodity. Lack of an adequate water supply can have a devastating effect on farmland and the surrounding wildlife. Producing a water management plan and reviewing your current water usage can provide many environmental benefits, save water and reduce water costs on the farm.

Benefits of a water management plan

Implementing a water management plan on your farm will result in more efficient water use, meaning:

  • Reduced water bills, if your supply is metered and charged on usage.
  • Reduced dirty water, therefore less storage and disposal costs.
  • This will also allow extra storage of slurry, enabling more timely applications to the land.
  • Less risk of contaminating water supplies.

Take steps to reduce the risk of soil erosion for short and long-term benefit

Water management plan

Water is a cost to the farm. There may be many opportunities on farm to reduce water usage, or replace with cheaper, alternative supplies. Try to minimise water use as far as possible, but not at the expense of production, quality, or health and welfare.

A detailed water management plan can be constructed (see the booklet Waterwise on the Farm - Environment Agency). This involves a detailed calculation of water requirements, water sources and current water usage and gives a detailed plan that can be checked and improved year on year. Simpler water plans can be devised by following the advice below and by generally being aware of water use.

Management advice to benefit wildlife, reduce water usage and reduce costs on the farm

Prevent leaks

Losses through leakage can prove costly over time and also cause problems such as soil erosion, poaching, water contamination and dirty water disposal costs.

  • Check pipes, taps, hoses, troughs etc. visually for signs of leakage.
  • Regularly check water usage by comparing bills etc. Increased usage may indicate a leak in the system.
  • An electronic leak monitor can be hired to check for hidden leaks.
  • Regularly repair and maintain water equipment.

Separate clean and dirty water

Dirty water can be a common source of pollution and should be disposed of safely on land. Keeping dirty and clean water separated on the farm reduces the dirty water and provides an alternative source of clean water to possibly replace more expensive sources.

  • Keep rainwater away from dirty yards.
  • Keep guttering and spouting maintained.
  • Try to reduce the uncovered areas that stock use.

Use alternative water supplies where possible, consider:

  • Collecting or diverting clean roof water to use as an alternative to mains water (washing machinery, floors etc.)
  • Storing water in reservoirs during the winter months to use in the summer when supplies are more scarce.
  • Springs, boreholes, watercourses (check the legal requirements - abstraction licences etc.)
  • Taking advice before changing water supplies - there might be legal/health implications, or problems with continuity of supply.
  • The possibility that extra costs might be incurred.


Reservoirs provide an alternative source of water on farm. Wildlife features - as shown in this pond(right) - can be incorporated at little extra cost.


Prevent contamination of water supplies

  • Be aware of all water sources on the farm. Mark them on a map to show potential contamination points.
  • Avoid spreading dirty water or manure close to water sources.
  • Use a covered contained area with a sealed base for mixing pesticides and filling sprayers.
  • Dispose of any unwanted chemicals in an approved manner.


Irrigation can dramatically increase crop production and quality. When using irrigation undertake a water use assessment to make sure that the resource is being used to its best potential, reducing the risk of soil erosion and watercourse contamination. Use irrigation in conjunction with a soil management plan to highlight areas at high risk of erosion, where particular care must be taken.

Seek advice to produce a plan that will help get the most out of your irrigation system. When deciding when and how much to irrigate, consider soil water deficit, crop requirements and the immediate weather forecast. Use a scheduling or measurement system to monitor soil moisture deficit. Use the soil erosion risk map to alter the irrigation plan as necessary considering soil conditions, slope, crop cover and water droplet size.

Reduce leakages in the irrigation system by regular checks, maintenance and repairs. Irrigation systems are often more prone to developing leaks if water pressure is higher than the delivery system requires.

Further information

For further information including possible grant aid contact your local FWAG Adviser and visit the FWAG website at

Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy in the information sheet. However, FWAG cannot accept liability for any errors or omission.
Photographs Richard Knight
Author: FWAG
20.1 Jan 2004

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