With recent dry weather and low groundwater levels, in this blog Geoff Darch, Water Resources Strategy Manager, looks at the ways Anglian Water is meeting the challenge of protecting rivers in our region.
Providing a billion litres of clean water every day for our region’s homes and businesses is a huge challenge. When you factor in a growing population and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, the challenge gets even bigger.
But it’s not just people who need water - it is also the lifeblood of our region’s river environment, supporting thousands of species of invertebrates, fish, wildflowers, birds and mammals. Our region is home to several chalk streams, a vital biodiversity rich habitat for the UK which is home to most of the world’s chalk streams.
Many of these streams are fed in large part from groundwater - aquifers deep underground containing rainwater which has been filtered through the soil and layers of chalk. After an 18 month period of below average rainfall, groundwater levels in parts of the east of our region are now lower than they have been in 30 years.
Over 93% of our supplies come from aquifers or reservoirs. In the small number of locations where we do abstract directly from rivers we are working with the Environment Agency to ensure these abstractions remain sustainable. In some areas we are providing the flow from recycled water, or from supporting boreholes, to improve the flows. However, much of the groundwater we abstract is from the chalk and we are working with the Environment Agency, Natural England and others to manage the risk that this could present to groundwater fed ecosystems. Over the next five years we are limiting abstraction from all major aquifers, accepting cuts to our licences of more than 80 million litres per day. This is an industry leading position and reflects the value we and our customers place on the environment.
However, in order to continue supplying customers this means we have to save more water, develop alternative supplies and adapt our infrastructure. We set out how we intend to do this in our Water Resources Management Plan.
Our infrastructure today
One example of changing our infrastructure is at Heigham Water Treatment Works in Norwich. These works are essential for treating all of the city’s water from the River Wensum. The abstraction point has recently been moved to the works itself - protecting the upstream stretch of river by ensuring there is a higher flow in the protected part of the river.
The key pillars of our plan to reduce demand are smart meters and leakage reduction. We plan to roll out smart meters to all our customers over the next 10 years. This huge project, installing up to 1,000 meters per day, will give our customers a clear view of their water usage, a proven strategy in helping people to use water more wisely, as well as helping customers identify leaks e.g. from faulty toilet cisterns.
When it comes to leakage we are already the best performing water company in the UK, but we are going even further by investing in staff and technology like our advanced noise loggers which pinpoint the sound of leaks in the network. This will help us reduce leaks by a further 22% over the next five years.
Collaboration is the key to ensuring there is enough water to go around. As a key member of the Water Resources East partnership we are working with farmers, local authorities, business leaders and conservationists to produce a long term multi-sector water resources plan for the East of England.
And on a local level we will continue to work with Rivers Trusts and other environmental groups to fund and deliver river restoration projects so that our waterways are as healthy they can be. Alongside Keep Britain Tidy we support the RiverCare project which organises volunteer groups around the region to get out to their local waterway and clear litter and invasive species.
Moving water around
While some areas in the south and east of the region may be suffering water stress - others are faring better. That’s why we are investing in one of the biggest engineering projects ever undertaken by Anglian Water - a strategic pipeline moving water from Lincolnshire down to Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex. This £500million investment will see 500km of new pipe laid over the next five years and will provide a huge benefit to the region’s water resources.
Water quality is just as important to us as water quantity and we are continuously working to ensure that the treated water we return to the environment, meets the stringent standards set by the Environment Agency. We have an extensive catchment management programme, working with landowners and businesses to improve water quality at its source. We are also continuously looking for treatment options that allow us to deliver wider natural capital benefits and reduce our carbon footprint. At the River Ingol in Norfolk, our ground-breaking treatment wetland is bringing wildlife back to area and ensuring the chalk stream is cleaner, clearer and healthier - all thanks to the hard work of the Norfolk Rivers Trust which manages the site.
We are also actively planning further ahead, for when further investments and emerging technologies may be needed. Feasibility studies are currently being carried out into potential new reservoirs for the region, desalination technology, reusing recycled water and working with other water companies to transfer water around the country. All of these ideas come with risks and challenges to overcome - but they could be part of the long term solution.
As a water company we have a legal, and more importantly a moral, obligation to provide every home in the East with clean, healthy water, whilst also protecting the environment. If we work hard, constantly explore new paths and collaborate with others, then we can ensure there is plenty of water for people, rivers and wildlife for many years to come.