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Turn off the taps and hope for rain- an update on the current water situation

The River Itchen The River Itchen

The South West of the county is facing a water shortage. CPRE Hampshire member and leader of the water focus group Moya Grove gives us the latest update on the situation. 

The South west of the county is very short of water. Southern Water (SW) takes its supplies from the River Test for this area. At the moment none of the plans for alternative sources of water are available. CPRE Hampshire is very concerned.

Taking water from a river that is already short of water could have a harmful effect on its wildlife and as we know the River Test is a world famous and much loved chalk stream which apart from its biodiversity and landscape value brings in income from trout fishing and tourism. Low flows lead to warmer water, lack of oxygen due to algal growth and the isolating of fish passes all making the river inhospitable for wildlife.

To protect the river, the Environment Agency (EA) has lowered the amount that SW can take from the Testwood abstraction point on the lower Test. But they realise that in the event of a drought, SW will still have a duty to supply, so it is inevitable that water will be needed from the Test. SW will have to apply for a Drought Permit ( DP) to abstract below the agreed river flow limit and conduct stringent monitoring and mitigation procedures to ensure the resilience of the river. During the public inquiry in February, SW agreed to all this. At the September stakeholder meeting CPREH learned that plans for alternative sources will not come on stream for some time so it is expected that the DP Application process could come into force 2 -3 times in the next 10 years.

This summer has seen record temperatures. Rainfall in the summer was only 63% of average. (Met office figs). The flows in the River Test since AUGUST have been at the level required to trigger an application for a drought permit within 60 days. So the application procedure we took part in at the stakeholder meeting in September was a mock one.

However, Defra has yet to issue the new licence..... this has been with them since the Spring. SW was under fire at the recent meeting for not bringing their alternative sources on stream. The Water Resource Management Plan (WRMP) in preparation, lists imports of water from Wessex Water and Portsmouth Water (PW), and a major desalination plant which will not be ready until 2027. A reservoir at Havant Thicket could ease water supplies to the Itchen after 2027 but will not help the Test. We will have an update on all this in December.

Can we do anything? Yes definitely.

SW is offering water use reduction measures which will be fitted free to your house. If you were wondering why there was no hosepipe (temporary use) ban (TUB’s) in the summer, the constraints on calling a TUB’s ban are great, and only saves about 5% of usage. And has almost no effect in the winter. House building is exacerbating the problem so look carefully at the development plans you are commenting on and add water use ( approx 140 litres per person per day -) and sewage disposal to your comments. We need our rivers and this one is in danger.

So turn off the taps, hope for rain and lobby SW to bring on their alternative sources of water now.


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