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07 November 22

Affinity Water unveils plans to use the Grand Union Canal to help provide a sustainable water supply for the future

Ahead of the launch of its new Water Resources Management Plan (WRMP) Affinity Water has spoken publicly about how it plans to invest in a multi-million-pound scheme to bring new water supplies down from the Midlands to its Central supply region and into the Home Counties.

Scientists, Geologists and Engineers at the Company, the largest Water only supplier in the UK, plan to use 100 km of The Grand Union Canal (GUC) to channel water from the Midlands in this ground-breaking new scheme. It is one of a number of so-called SROs – Strategic Resource Options - which will be unveiled when it formally launches its WRMP later this month.


Podcast: A sustainable water supply using the Grand Union Canal

In a new podcast outlining the plan Dr Doug Hunt, Affinity Water’s Head of Water Resources Management Planning, stands by the Grand Union Canal near Leighton Buzzard and explains what the proposal entails:

“The GUC is really important to us as it is the first of the major schemes, we are proposing to manage our water resources, and the first of our SROs. It will allow us to reduce abstraction from chalk groundwater sources in sensitive areas. We want to stop unsustainable abstraction from the chalk aquifers.”

He says that although the scheme will be recycling wastewater from near Birmingham it will be treated properly and naturally:

“The water will interact with a number of rivers and small reservoirs that the Canal and River Trust own and operate, and the water will be treated again when it gets to us at Leighton Buzzard to meet strict potable drinking water standards. Wastewater is already present in our water systems, the water used in this scheme will be treated to a high standard, and as it travels down the Canal it will interact with natural biological processes”.

On the demand side he reassured customers and stakeholders that Affinity Water will be reducing leakage by “fifty per cent by 2050” using the latest technologies and it will be continuing its introduction of the new smart metering programme to “help customers reduce their consumption”:

Ellie Powers Affinity Water’s Head of Water Resources and Environment explained:

“Our mission is to provide sustainable, high-quality water and work together with our community to make better use of water and safeguard the local environment. We operate in a supply area which is uniquely home to 10% of all globally rare chalk streams. Although we have sufficient water to serve our customers now, we need to reduce abstraction from boreholes near these rare chalk habitats in the longer term. We need to reduce abstraction from our chalk groundwater sources and have identified the reduction targets within our ‘environmental destination’. The combination of population growth, demand for water, climate change and the need to leave more water in the environment, particularly for our vulnerable chalk streams, means we need to identify and implement some significant changes to the way that we manage both the supply and demand for water in our area”.

The fifty-year plan says that the GUC Strategic Transfer is one of the “most innovative” SROs options and that it will utilise existing infrastructure to take water from Birmingham to Leighton Buzzard and into the Affinity Water supply area.

It will take treated water from Severn Trent’s Minworth site, via a new closed pipeline transfer of approx. 16 km to a location on the canal near Atherstone in Warwickshire.

The transfer would then utilise the existing canal, passing through the Coventry Canal, the Oxford Canal and the Grand Union Canal, with a small number of pump and lock upgrades to enable this transfer. Water would be abstracted at a location nearby Leighton Buzzard and stored, before being treated at a new Water Treatment Works, and then transferred to the Affinity Water supply area.

Using Severn Trent’s Minworth Treatment Works additional treatment would enhance the quality of the treated wastewater to enable a portion to be diverted to support the Grand Union Canal Strategic Transfer.

Dr Hunt goes on to talk about why the GUC scheme represents “better value” than other options:

“It’s environmentally more friendly, it’s sustainable, what we are doing is using existing infrastructure, and working with the canal community. As well as keeping carbon emissions and energy low, the great thing about a canal is that it is a big open channel, so you don’t have to pump very hard to move water through it. They have already tunnelled through the hills, so we don’t have to pump over the hills. It’s a great way of getting large volumes of water moved great distances without much pumping. The second part of it is that the actual infrastructure we need on the canal is quite limited. We only have to put a few new bits in, and we can create a lot of value to the Canal users, such as enhancing car parks and putting nice wetlands in. We think it has public value and it is a helpful community resource. This is better for our communities and the environment. The Canal and River Trust and Severn Trent have been great partners on this, and they are working with us”.

The first phase is costed at approximately £250 million, and Mr Hunt said that this will mean a rise in customer bills:

“My job is to make that rise as small as possible and we’re really looking to find the most economical way. We’re really trying to hit that sweet spot to do what’s right for the environment, and to reduce abstraction in chalk where it is not sustainable, but we are also mindful of keeping bills as low as possible and making sure it all works efficiently and is innovative.”

He ends by outlining how Affinity Water will be working with other water companies in the region through two groups Water Resources East (WRE) and Water Resources South East (WRSE) who will also be publishing their own regional plans.

He said when the Affinity Water plan is launched later in November 2022 customers and stakeholders will be able to give their feedback:

“We want customers and stakeholder views, we welcome views on this, and it will be on our website.”

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