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UK's Case for Nationwide 

Water Neutrality

The United Kingdom is experiencing a growing water crisis that will soon turn into a major incident if the authorities do not address the situation quickly. Our population is growing, climate change weather events are recurring in rapid succession causing droughts and floods, we are over-mining our aquifers, and wasting quite a lot through leakage. This matter is compounded by the fact that we have an unusually high water use per capita averaging 150 litres/person/day.

 

In 2021 the Environment Agency published a document that indicated that the extreme water stress was now affecting more than 60% of the country. There is also a dwindling of ecological flows which is threatening the survival of many species, invertebrates and habitats. A directive in September 2021 from Natural England enacted the concept of water neutrality which requires that all new accommodation, together with new commercial premises with high water uses, in the Sussex North Water Resources Supply Zone meet this measure. In particular this was  stipulated in order to protect ecological flows and reduce the demand for increased water abstraction from the wells at Hardham. As this could adversely impact the integrity of the Arun Valley which is a critical habitat for many important species, as well as drinking water availability for residents. 

But limiting this requirement to just a very small area of the country is not sufficient to stem the impending water crisis. Water Neutrality therefore needs to be applied to the rest of the areas in England experiencing serious water stress. Below we provide an analysis of the implications for the other water stressed regions in the south and southeast of England, demonstrating that they too need the water neutrality requirement to be applied to them.

What is a Water Neutral Development? 

A Water Neutral development will not add to the overall existing water demand of an area or 

catchment and will have zero impact on existing water abstraction requirements or water mains supply.  

water neutrality

Chalk Streams - Our Unique Ecosystem 

The UK's chalk rivers have helped to shape some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. From the rolling green downloads in southern England to the grassy meadows, rich salmonoid habitats, and the waterways of the eastern fens. 

Save Water - Save Our Rivers 

40% of the water we extract from the natural environment is wasted. By taking just what we need we will save natural aquatic habitats and wildlife and maintain good levels of our limited water resources. 

In order to meet our daily modern day requirements we are reliant on a heavily complicated and over engineered capital system, consisting of large sewers, treatment plants and sewer overflows. In recent months we heard the scandalous reports on a number of Water Companies discharging untreated effluent into rivers, needlessly contaminating and polluting our rivers and killing aquatic life.  

water shortage
water offset

Over-abstraction of water decreases the resilience of habitats to natural variations in water levels, particularly during summer or in a drought. This results in irreversible damage to aquatic ecosystems and ecological services.

Compelling Case for Water Neutrality

 

Most of the government's targeted 300,000 homes will be constructed in the South and East of England. These areas have high populations and greatest economic activities. Significant developments are also earmarked for these regions; the Oxford - Cambridge ARC with an enormous target of 1 million homes, the 10,000 homes Tewkesbury Garden City, North Essex Garden city; but the list goes on with many less prominent developments that are required to meet demand. 

 

Natural England and the Environment Agency have indeed taken a precautionary approach in considering the potential adverse impact on the Arun Valley ecosystems and protected habitats. But applying the "Precautionary Principle" is a tenet of the Environmental Law and so it must be as we cannot afford to lose habitats, flora and fauna first then act after the event. There is a strong case for taking this stance as technology is readily available at reasonable cost for new developments to actively offset their "new" water demand requirements.  

 

The more critical issue is that this matter will not go away or be lobbied out of existence. The regions in the South and East of England are particularly vulnerable as they rely on the aquifers which also service the chalk streams. These chalk streams are unique habitats as stated above and at times have become vulnerable to over-abstraction.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Developers will need to look at this carefully, particularly for strategic sites and develop deliverable mechanisms for securing potential water offsetting opportunities. The water issues are compounded by climate change induced weather events which inevitable compels regulators to apply stricter regimes in order to mitigate the risk of over abstraction of water. 

Future water supply will no longer be an end of tap solution. We all need to look at the source of supply and mitigate existing consumption patterns and habits if we are going to facilitate developments in the future. This is a collective effort and we consider theWaterBank to provide a universal solution that that will reduce overall water demand, ensure ecological flows and facilitate future developments. 

The hidden rivers of the Thames are simulated at surface level by a myriad of bust pipes! In 2007/2008 the Ofwat 

Economic Leakage Target was a staggering 22%. In the 2019 water price review Ofwat that it was targeting a water leakage reduction nationwide by 17% between 2020 and 2025. This would be sufficient to save enough water to meet the needs of everyone in Manchester, Leeds, Leicester and Cardiff. We are working on a mechanism to facilitate these water mains repairs, so that the water saved can be utilised by future developments.  

aquatic life

Dry Chalk River Mimram Hertfordshire

Kills Aquatic Life & Habitats

grey water systems

Thriving Chalk Stream 

Salmon and Trout Habitat

Water

High Levels Of

Water Stress

Our rivers together with their ecosystems are at risk from a number of pressures but the compounding effects of excessive abstractions are particularly severe: 

  • Increased concentrations of effluent, pollutants and nutrients.

  • Restricted migration routes and restricted access to spawning grounds.

  • Rivers slow down, lose oxygen and drop sediment. 

  • Increased water temperature leads to algae growth and oxygen depletion.

  • Decreased viability of species that rely on specific water levels, flow levels and substrate conditions.   

  • Aquatic habitats for fish, insects, animals and plants are reduced and severely altered. 

  • Excessive groundwater abstraction compounds other negative impacts on water quality:

    • Pollution from surface water runoff. 

    • Concentrates pollutants from agriculture like pesticides and fertilisers. 

    • Phosphates from sewage. 

30% of the Rivers in England and Wales are at risk of significant damage from over-abstraction, as highlighted by the Environment Agency's Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies (CAMS). Ref 12.

  • 15% of river catchments are classified as over-abstracted. 

  • 18% of river catchments are classified as over-licensed. 

 

The south and east of England region is particularly under high levels of water stress; owing to the high population density and greater per capita consumption. In drought and low rainfall periods abstraction to meet domestic life and commercial requirements abstraction to meet these demands is causing irreparable damage to our rivers, aquatic life and associated habitats.   

water stress
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