Potable Water Supply
The Northern Pipeline, Strategic Water Supply
In the category ďDenotificationĒ I raised the potential ecological benefits of using the artificially created water bodies in the Avon Valley south of Fordingbridge as water storage reservoirs to alleviate pressure on the groundwater aquifers north of Salisbury. The current concern related to summer water shortages and low flows has initiated considerable efforts on the part of the water companies to find measures to safeguard their supplies. Whilst this effort has been forced upon them by EA enforced environmental legislation, most of which emanates from Europe, it is none the less welcome if it protects our rivers. It must always be remembered that the water companies are in the business of selling water and making profit from the exercise, to ensure share dividends and parent companies are kept happy. It should also be remembered many of these parent companies are overseas multinationals with not the least concern in the welfare of the Hampshire Avon.
The equation we are attempting to implement is simple;
Min Wtr Co. expenditure x Max water abstraction/profit = Ecological balance.
This equation has to be viewed in the light of the findings of the CAMS (Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy) policy that the Avon Catchment is over licensed and over abstracted. This is based on the simple fact that there is a finite volume of water in the aquifers; however you play it all comes out of the same bucket. The important factor that comes into play here is that evolution has developed the matrix of interdependent life forms critical to our valley on that provision of water over hundreds of thousands of years. It makes me shiver when I see the arrogance of science believe it can determine just how little Nature can make do with in planning mans exploitation of the asset.
The history of our rivers is littered with schemes that have been implemented on the grounds of best scientific evidence to be subsequently proven disastrous for the ecology of the river. MAFF land drainage policy in the 70ís subsidising the installation of miles of land drains in every damp meadow and ditch in the catchment. The canalisation of the Middle Stour and the Middle Avon during the 60ís the devastation of the first decades of the mechanical weed cutting, STW discharge limits, agricultural chemical application; all of which require vast sums of money being ploughed back in to correct.
In considering the future supply of water obviously the increasing demand has to be considered but equally importantly the period of the proposed measures effectiveness has to be paramount. To adopt short term measures to circumvent current ecological legislation deferring/delaying the impact of potential problems is not in the best interests of the riverine ecology.
There are other current policies that give rise to concern which would appear at odds to pure common sense. Out of catchment supply where the Avon supplies water to the Bath, Poole, Dorchester, Fawley just to mention a few. All this water is lost to the river, never returning through the STWs, drains etc. How has this come about, financial expediency. Stream support, commercial trading of abstraction licenses, reliance on mathematical models and private sector control of water. Having the financial support to investigate the implication of such measures is beyond those with concerns and we have to accept the scientific evidence produced by the poacher gamekeeper Water Companies.
Perhaps the most pertinent piece of legislation we see being implemented is the production of the drought plans by the water companies. Whilst a formula that can be adopted when low flows and hot weather begin to make unsustainable demands on available resources is commendable a formula that eventually sides with the abstractor is worse than useless. We may see stream support, water transfers, pressure reduction, restrictions on industrial use, metering, stand pipes and bowsers but at the end of the day, if under the "Drought Orders" the abstractions can be maximised the river has been sold, quite literally, down the drain. It is hard to imagine the political scenario where the government of the day will tell the electorate that they will have to go without, or as the user and polluter they must pay.
What advantages does the Northern Pipeline contain over the mathematically tweaked and expertly reviewed alternatives as listed above; it has the potential to leave the natural order of the higher aquifers intact. This very scheme was promoted and recommended by the water companies and regulatory agencies in 2000 just to minimise the impact of over abstraction on the Wylye. This fell at the last hurdle when Ofwat in their glory decreed the 105 million GBP cost was too great for the userís to bear. Itís a pity Ofwat didnít consult me as a user!! In fact Ofwats position when the scheme was deferred through being deemed too costly had the caveat that until other options had been thoroughly explored. That is quite an important caveat or a cop out, which ever way you care to interpret it. Ofwat did not consider the case for a northern supply line to be sufficiently proven or urgent to allow the cost of such a development to be passed on to the consumer. If predictions of climate change are realised this view may have to be reconsidered or the water supply companies may need to raise the money from commercial sources as every other industry in the land has to. Iím sure a joint project from both major water company beneficiaries would raise commercial funding quite easily. It may reduce the dividends for a year or two and add a pound or two to each of our bills but that is small beer when the fate of the river is being considered.
The scheme as I would envisage it today would relocate ALL of the abstraction from the chalk north of Salisbury and move them south to Blashford. This would allow a completely natural regime to exist on the delicately balanced headwaters of the Avon that are at such risk under the present abstraction regime. It would also see the river downstream of the major STWís make a net gain through the return of this water through the discharges. Warminster, Salisbury, Tidworth, Amesbury the volume would be considerable and make the water companies ensure they meet the water quality objectives with the discharges as they would only have to remove the pollutants when the water was eventually taken lower down.
Recharge abstraction volume for the Blashford Lake storage from the Ibsley/Blashford abstraction site should be in direct proportion to the abstraction volume relinquished from the aquifer wells. NO NEW ABSTRACTION should be consented to provide this facility. Under no circumstances should any licensed surplus be allowed to be traded under the new provision for water trading on the commodities market. Similarly a restriction related to out of catchment supply should be a condition of use related to this abstraction. To avoid the impact of the acknowledged risk to the Avon SSSIís due to abstraction, in the event of future increased demand, consideration should be given to the recharge of the lakes from tidal limit. This provision would require considerable investigation in light of the high risk to Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar, Avon pSAC EU designated species) in the harbour at times of low flow.
I appreciate the energy costs as measured in todayís market make for unpleasant reading for the water companies when considering the cost of the pumping this water north. That unfortunately is the harsh reality of the position we find ourselves in today. The period of cheap filtered commodity, readily available for profitable resale is fast becoming a thing of the past.