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16 June 23

BBC Countryfile talks with Affinity Water on restoring chalk streams

BBC Countryfile joins Affinity Water as they discuss their plans to invest in river restoration works to improve chalk streams and work with the agricultural community on schemes to improve soil health and improve the quality of water in the natural environment.

As well as reducing abstraction from groundwater sources, Affinity Water’s Revitalising Chalk Rivers programme aims to create resilient river systems by restoring the rivers in our supply area and enhancing habitats. We have been working with the Environment Agency, landowners and other partners to improve the chalk streams.

As a water-only company, Affinity Water do not manage wastewater services in their areas, but they very much have a role to play in helping return our rivers to good ecological health.

Steve Plumb, Director of Asset Strategy & Capital Delivery says, “We recognise our role of being stewards of the environment which is why we need to continue working with our customers, the government, the water industry, environmental groups, the agricultural industry and other sectors to increase public understanding on what affects our rivers and what we all need to do to improve them.”

Since 2015, Affinity Water have been working to carry out a series of river restoration projects on the River Beane in Hertfordshire. This includes a stretch of river at Woodhall Park which is located in Watton-at-Stone near Stevenage; it forms the heart of the Woodhall Estate and is a Grade II listed parkland.

The River Beane is a chalk stream that flows through the county of Hertfordshire and is 30.3km in length from its source at Roe Green. As a tributary of the River Lea, it rises to the south-west of Sandon, in the hills northeast of Stevenage, and joins the Lea at Hartham Common in Hertford. Chalk streams are fed by clear, alkaline chalk groundwater and springs making them very biologically diverse.

There are more than 200 chalk streams globally; most of these are found in Southern England making them highly important to protect.

Ellie Powers, Head of Water Resources and Environment says,

“Chalk streams should have a range of habitats including a variation in flow, exposed gravel bed and often have winterbourne areas depending on groundwater levels. Chalk streams are home to a wide range of macroinvertebrates including, mayfly and caddisfly, macrophytes such as water crowfoot and starwort, and fish species like brown trout, as well as iconic species such as otter, water vole and kingfisher. It is important we protect, restore and create habitats for all these species through creating resilience chalk stream catchments”.

In April 2016, a storm resulted in a breach of the broadwater bank, causing the lake to drain down. It was realised that over time the broadwater had filled with silt which was found to be contaminated with hydrocarbons so required remediation. The Estate wished to remove the silt and had it treated on site so it could be spread safely on their land.

Affinity Water took the opportunity whilst the lake was being repaired to improve the connectivity of the river by bypassing the two weirs. This was done in two phases; downstream first by bypassing the Horseshoe Weir with a new 400m channel with chalk stream features, and then the upstream section bypassing the Broadwater and Tumbling Bay Weir with 900m of new channel.

Kevin Barton, Head of Corporate Affairs says,

“We have a clear purpose to take care of the environment now and for future generations.  We are proud to operate in an area of the country that is home to many of our precious chalk streams and are committed to work to protect them for future generations”.

Chalk streams are under threat due to climate change, pollution, a growing population, demand for water and the impact of centuries of river alterations due to land use change, historic mills and widening and dredging for flood alleviation purposes.

Many of these factors are beyond our control, but Affinity Water are helping to protect the globally rare chalk streams in their supply area by reducing groundwater abstraction through investment in new infrastructure and undertaking river restoration schemes and catchment initiatives.   

“The links between groundwater levels and river flows is dynamic, variable. We are working hard to improve the understanding of the groundwater – surface water interactions with the Environment Agency, so we can make investment decisions that are most beneficial to the environment under a range of hydrological conditions and in a changing climate.”

“We also launched our Environmental Data WebPortal earlier in the year to share our datasets with the public.”

What Affinity Water have done

Since 2015, Affinity water have carried out extensive river restoration work and reducing the amount they take from groundwater to help improve over 120km of chalk streams, which includes the Rivers Ver, Lea, Mimram, Beane, Misbourne, Gade and Little Stour. We are also working to identify and deliver projects on the Ivel, Cam, Bulbourne, Chess, Colne, Brett and Dour.

The CaBA Chalk Stream Restoration Group launched its first Chalk Stream Strategy in 2021, calling for chalk streams in England to be given enhanced environmental status. Now, in 2022, the group have released their implementation plan and we have been supporting their strategy and recommendations.

By 2025 Affinity Water will have reduced abstraction from the chalk aquifer by almost 100 million litres a day since the 1990s. They are investing and building new infrastructure to allow them to do this, such as their new water conditioning facility in Sundon, and extensive new network of water mains to allow them to move water around more efficiently.

Healthy soils, cleaner water and a sustainable future are also the key messages that Affinity Water will be demonstrating at this year’s Groundswell event (28th & 29th June) with the launch of their companion cropping trial results.

Companion cropping funding is one of the initiatives Affinity Water’s catchment team have been providing farmers in their catchments to help manage water quality, rather than rely on expensive end of pipe treatment solutions.

Delegates are encouraged to come along to the stand to talk to the Affinity Water catchment team about their catchment management schemes and ongoing trial results.

The stand will also host a catchment hub area which will house representatives from Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust, University of Reading, Cranfield University and Affinity Water’s biodiversity and river restoration teams.

Future plans

Affinity Water know there is much more that we all need to do. Between 2025 – 2030, they have proposed to reduce abstractions from ground water by a further 35 million litres of water a day.

Affinity Water’s regional plans for water resources demonstrate the substantial investment the industry will be making over the next 50 years, through sums unparalleled in the history of the industry. The investment will ensure a sustainable supply of water for a growing population and make their essential public supply resilient to climate change, whilst taking care of the environment.

This includes scheme to build new sources of water such as new reservoirs, water recycling and using the Grand Union Canal to transfer water from where its plentiful.

These new resource options, alongside reductions in leakage and demand for water, will allow them to reduce the amount they take from groundwater even further.

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