More good news from the Environment Agency

I’m very happy to report that the Environment Agency’s water resources team has taken an active interest in the recommendations made by the CaBA chalk stream restoration strategy.

A few weeks ago I reported that the team had published a paper on various ways chalk stream flows can be assessed, including variations on or additions to the official EFI which – in my view – would get around some of its shortcomings (for example assessing flow at the perennial head rather than at the catchment boundary downstream of major sewage discharge points). That report concluded: “that substantial abstraction reductions will be required before chalk stream flows are sustainable, and the majority of these reductions will need to come from public water supply”. Indeed.

Now I have just been notified that the additional funding supplied by changes to abstraction licence fees will be dedicated to addressing low-flow issues in chalk stream in the following ways:

  1. Launch of the water resources chalk partnership fund

A £1 million water resources chalk partnership fund. Funding will be made available annually to partnership projects that deliver a flow benefit in chalk catchments where there are known abstraction issues (for more information on which catchments those might be I encourage you to look at the CaBA Abstraction as a % of Recharge report – not an official EA report, but an independent assessment of abstraction pressures).

This is a substantial sum and great news. The EA has said that it hopes the money will support their “efforts to address the water resources actions identified in the CaBA chalk stream restoration strategy”.

Projects can include habitat restoration, monitoring and engagement “to help us to achieve quick improvements and also longer-term change in chalk streams. Although the fund will be focussed on resolving water resources issues, we will seek to support multi-benefit projects and combine this with other funding sources where possible. Our catchment coordinators will work with partners to identify and develop project ideas. Further details about the fund objectives, potential projects, and local allocations are in the attached briefing note”.

  1. Plans to recruit new water resources chalk posts to operational teams

The EA is also finalising plans to recruit to about 30 new posts across operational teams nationally and locally “to work on water resources issues impacting chalk streams”.

National posts will develop and deliver a national water resources chalk programme for the Environment Agency, creating a network of local water resources chalk leads and provide a link to policy development. Posts in local area teams will be focussed on planning and coordination; technical work to develop the evidence base and engagement.

The EA will be undertaking recruitment over the spring and summer.

This latter recruitment drive is not insignificant. In putting together the CaBA report I got the distinct impression that one of the things holding back progress with abstraction reform was not a lack of dedication, just a lack of people-power. It all comes down to detail and processing, in the end.

And the evidence base alluded to above is key, because in some places – the River Ivel springs to mind, even if it doesn’t spring to the surface – the current assessments of abstraction impacts do not appear to reflect reality (hence the need to review the ways we assess abstraction impacts and flow, as above).

This is all GOOD STUFF and I’m so pleased the EA is responding to the CaBA strategy (in which the water resources team played a key role I might add) positively and proactively.

What I would really like to see now is all parties – lead by the EA, but with the water companies and the NGOs in close collaboration – making a big push to establish a flagship flow-recovery project with g’water abstraction taken back to under 10% of recharge on a regional scale. The Chilterns / Colne is the place to do it, with the ‘Supply 2040’ pipeline the means (only make it Supply 2030!), the Grand Union Canal xfer and 100M Ml/d from Birmingham (very quickly available at only £2 million per megalitre) the insurance policy, and all the flow recovery a water resources bonus: it would be 80% over the full year or I’ll eat a hat, but with the Birmingham water making up the shortfall the actual % (over which we could debate for ever and a day), becomes less critical.

Come on EA / Rapid / Ofwat: make it happen!

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