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28 September 20

Affinity Water launches Chalk Stream restoration in London and the Eastern Region

River groups from the Chilterns joined the CEO of Affinity Water, Pauline Walsh and other senior executives to mark the company’s commitment to restoring chalk streams in London and the Eastern Region.

On Sunday September 27th 2020 Affinity Water stopped taking water from boreholes at the top of the Chess Valley which affects the River Chess in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Across its supply area, Affinity will also be significantly reducing groundwater abstraction in the Ver, Mimram, Upper Lea and Misbourne catchments by 2024 to leave more water in the environment.

Picture from left: Paul Jennings – River Chess Association Chair; Jake Rigg – Director of Corporate Affairs; Allen Beechey – Chalk Streams Project Team; Pauline Walsh - Affinity Water CEO; Tony Cocker - Affinity Water Chairman; Dr Elaine King - Chief Executive of the Chilterns Conservation Board.

Picture from left: Allen Beechey – Chalk Streams Project Team; Dr Elaine King - Chief Executive of the Chilterns Conservation Board; Jake Rigg – Director of Corporate Affairs; Pauline Walsh - Affinity Water CEO; Paul Jennings – River Chess Association Chair; Tony Cocker - Affinity Water Chairman.

(Photographer: Ian Miles @flashpointpictures)


Marking the event, Affinity Water Chief Executive Pauline Walsh said:

“Chalk streams are a precious part of our local and national heritage and a priceless natural resource. This is the decade where we will either protect and enhance the environment for every generation or fall further behind. We recognise this is not a new issue, but it is clear that today we need to act with urgency. We need to work differently to ensure that we can build on the actions in the Chess, Ver and Mimram, as soon as possible, to benefit all of our chalk rivers.”

Paul Jennings, Chairman, River Chess Association said:

"We are extremely fortunate to have the River Chess chalk stream on our doorstep, it has proved to be a very popular destination during these recent trying times, a great escape for mind and body. So, we applaud Affinity Water for taking this land mark action. Flow is the essential element of any river, reducing abstraction is a great first step.”

Allen Beechey, Chilterns Chalk Streams Project Officer said:

"There are just 260 chalk streams to be found on the planet. 85% of these beautiful streams are found in England. They are our rainforests and we have a special responsibility to conserve them for wildlife and for future generations to enjoy, but right now many are struggling for their very survival. The chalk streams that flow through the Chilterns are widely regarded as the most threatened of all chalk streams in the world. They have suffered increasingly from chronic low flows and dry periods for over half a century. Just last summer more than 60% of the total length of chalk stream habitat in the Chilterns AONB was dry. They are truly chalk streams in crisis. The effects of climate change on the health of chalk streams are as undeniable as the impact of our high-water use. It is clear that, if we are to protect the chalk streams that we cherish, we need to leave more water in the environment than ever before. The significant reductions in abstraction that Affinity Water have committed to and a desire to move towards more environmentally sustainable sources of water represents a step change in the way in which streams like the Chess, Ver and Mimram are valued and will go a long way towards reversing the decline of these truly special streams."

Jake Rigg, Director of Corporate Affairs at Affinity Water said:

“Our plan sets out how we will work with our partners to reduce the amount of water we take from chalk streams, invest in these critical natural habitats and bring our communities together to help us in this task. 65% of the public drinking water supplied in the south-east of England comes from the chalk aquifer, the same aquifer that chalk streams rely on for their flow. But chalk aquifers have been put under increased pressure by an ever-growing population, abstraction and other issues such as climate change. Now is the time to take a different approach to protect these precious resources. And equally importantly we are investing in new sources of water to ensure resilience throughout the region.

“We are not making promises that we cannot deliver on – we are putting in place a plan that will restore the chalk streams and deliver high quality water to the ever-growing population in the South East of England at an affordable price as we live through a climate emergency.”

Sam Lumb, Area Director for the Environment Agency said:

“Our chalk streams are precious and we are committed to protecting them. Population growth, particularly in the South East, means that more water is needed at a time when climate change is causing the amount of water that is available to decline. Whilst we have to take water from the environment, we must ensure that abstraction is sustainable.

“This is a welcome first step by Affinity Water in the right direction and we will continue to work with them to reduce reliance on chalk streams. Ultimately, we must end environmentally unsustainable abstraction, transforming flows in areas of significant water stress, improving these unique and rare environments now and for the future.”


Further information on chalk streams:

The majority of the world’s chalk streams are found in England and their heritage should be viewed in the same light as an English Great Barrier Reef or rainforest.

Chalk streams are truly special habitats, home to an abundance of wildlife species such as water crowfoot, flag iris, mayfly, brown trout, kingfisher, otters and the nationally endangered water vole.

Chalk streams are at risk of extinction as the impacts of climate change combine with increasing demand for water from a growing population. Today many English chalk streams are dry in long stretches and do not meet the objectives set out in environmental legislation. The home of Wind in the Willows and lauded by Wordsworth and Keats, these streams are also a much-loved part of the region's identity, but they are facing a fight for survival.

Affinity Water is committing to ending environmentally unsustainable abstraction from these precious river catchments and to work in collaboration with other water companies, industries, universities and NGOs to develop alternative, sustainable water supplies away from chalk river catchments.

This action, which follows years of investigation, trials, and collaborative efforts with local groups in the Chilterns, the Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB) and the Environment Agency confirms Affinity Water’s commitment to restore the globally rare chalk streams in its supply area back to health.

A final pilot was undertaken earlier this year to understand the impact of reducing borehole abstraction on the environment and the local water supply. Affinity Water will continue to work with partners and the Environment Agency to monitor the beneficial impacts on flows in the Chess and ensure that there are no adverse effects to public water supplies or the environment.

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