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18 January 22

Affinity Water explains how taking a catchment-based approach is helping to keep its chalk streams healthy

In a new two-part #Podcast Affinity Water explores how it manages its catchments across its three regions in the South-East including working in partnership with wildlife trusts, farmers, Local Authorities, NGOs and local action groups working collectively to keep its precious chalk streams healthy.

Image of Alister standing in the middle of a field

Alister Leggatt, Affinity Water’s Catchment and Biodiversity Manager takes a walk by the River Beane at Aston, near Stevenage, to explain why “partnerships” are key to ensuring the 24 chalk streams in its region – 10 per cent of all those in the World - are protected and sustainable solutions adopted to their management.

Pollutants of all kinds need to be kept out of the rivers, whether that’s nitrates from fertilisers used on nearby farmland, or oils and substances from traffic on local roads, or litter carelessly thrown by passers-by into the streams.

Alister Leggatt also reassures customers and families living locally that Affinity Water is doing all it can to balance the need to supply more and more customers with water, as populations increase and more houses are built, while at the same time reducing water abstraction from chalk aquifers. He explains that the public has its part to play by taking steps to reduce their water consumption and “leaving only footprints and taking home only memories” when they explore the countryside.

Along the River Beane Alister spots hares, and a few mystery holes in the river bank which might be signs of his favourite river creature water voles which have been recently observed on the River Beane for the first time in 13 years.

The two-part podcast can be listened to on youtube - watch part one and part two.

Affinity Water’s Save Our Streams campaign has so far achieved over 170,000 sign ups and saved 5 million litres of water every day. The region is known to have one of the highest water uses in the UK. Research found that 73% of customers told Affinity Water that Save Our Streams had caused them to take some form of water saving action.

Alister explains: “About 65 per cent of the total water we supply to approximately 3.6 million customers comes from chalk groundwater. We are dependent on that. The remaining water we abstract comes directly from the river Thames. We are hugely dependent on supplying a very large population of people in an economically key area of the UK with this water from precious groundwater sources. We have experienced enormous population growth such as in places like Stevenage, and there is development going up everywhere. We are estimating in the SE an extra 4 million people over the next thirty years which puts pressure on the environment.

“Every litre of water every person consumes can have an impact. If we can reduce consumption further as we have with Save Our Streams then it can have a positive impact on our streams.

“We are in the upper reaches of the Beane where we have a water supply abstraction at Aston and Whitehall as well. We have been working with the Environment Agency and we have taken significant action to reduce our abstraction. Over the last five years we have reduced our abstraction on the River Beane by over 16 million litres a day, and that is the supply Stevenage is dependent on, so that has required huge infrastructure investment and projects further down to get the water here and to allow our rivers to recover”.

The company is working with its catchment partners to ensure the meandering flows of this globally rare chalk streams, rarer than the Bengali Tiger, are maintained while supplying its 3.6 million customers with high quality drinking water.

Nearby Stevenage with a population of nearly 88,000 is due to see it increase to over 100,000 in the near future. It has grown over the past fifty years from 66,000 in 1971. Every one of those new homes will require a water supply so even with government plans to legislate for a maximum household water consumption, the pressures on companies such as Affinity Water will continue.

Alister said:” Catchment partnerships and a catchment-based approach is a really fantastic initiative and a great demonstrator of the need for partnerships. Catchment partnerships in this area, hosted by the Wildlife Trusts bring various groups together, partners and stakeholders, all working collectively to develop a plan as to how we can protect and restore these catchments. They are absolutely key for Affinity Water, we really support them, and we will find any technique we can to work with these people to improve the environment particularly where water is concerned. We are also working with farmers in this area to set up a farm cluster group who share common objectives and we want to work with them to help them understand the challenges we face with water and to provide some incentives towards solutions to protect water but that can also help them.”

This week six water companies in the South-East have also launched a consultation document to enable customers and stakeholders to comment on their water resource plans and feed into the National Water Resource Management Plan across the UK. This is the first time Water Resources South-East has prepared a regional plan in this way.

Customers in the South-East have not experienced any restrictions to their water supplies since 2012, which is largely due to water companies’ ongoing investment to reduce leakage and help people use water more efficiently. Water companies are already investing to reduce the impact of their abstractions by returning more than 400 million liters of water to the environment by 2030.

However, this plan sets a new path for investment, driven by the combination of population growth, climate change and the need to further reduce existing abstraction from water sources that could be more vulnerable to the climate change in the future.

Commenting on the plan in the podcast Alister elaborates: “Water Resources South-East is vitally important because it is taking a collective strategic regional approach to manage water resources across the entire SE of England rather than just individual water companies looking at issues in their respective areas. We can collectively look at the challenges across the whole region from climate change to population growth and develop a plan that ensures a sustainable supply of water for the next thirty years and beyond but also looks at those catchments impacted most by water abstraction and supply. It looks at some of the options like moving water in from elsewhere and creating transfers between water companies but incorporating catchment-based solutions to make sure those catchments are more resilient and chalk streams function better while we continue to supply high quality drinking water.”

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