THE Angling Trust has called on politicians to recognise that England needs a completely fresh approach to water supply and storage.
Speaking at the end of an incredibly wet April, the Trust is eager to end the chronic wastage of water in times of flood and the environmentally damaging over abstraction of vulnerable rivers in times of drought.
The Trust has highlighted the situation in the Thames Region where despite a 7% increase in population in London and the South East since 2001 no new reservoirs have been built for more than 40 years. At the same time demand for water has reached a record level of 1,000 litres per person per week, putting huge strain on the network at the expense of the environment.
National Campaigns Coordinator Martin Salter said: ‘As any angler knows, billions of gallons of floodwater rush out to sea at times of high rainfall yet a few weeks later water companies may be applying for drought orders to suck dry our already depleted chalkstreams and other vulnerable rivers.
‘It is utter madness that governments of both persuasions have failed to plan for the needs of expanding populations and the challenges of climate change which mean more extreme weather conditions including both drought and floods.
‘In the Thames Region in particular it beggars belief that no new reservoir has been given planning permission for the last 40 years and that proposals for a much needed Abingdon Reservoir were rejected in 2010. It is just plain commonsense to store in times of plenty to get through periods of scarcity.’
The Trust has made its call at a time when most of England is officially in drought, groundwater levels are at historic lows following two years of exceptionally low rainfall and yet there are 150 Environment Agency flood alerts and 32 flood warnings in place as the UK experiences one of the wettest Aprils since records began.
Water minister Richard Benyon acknowledged that the current deluge will do little to end the drought when he said: ‘I’m afraid we need more rain as what we’ve had isn’t filling up the ground reserves that we need in order to cope with the drought.’
‘There is an urgent need to invest in greater storage to avoid the widespread depletion of groundwater levels and river flows.
‘Much more should be done to reduce the demand for water – including the introduction of universal metering – and more of the supply should come from reservoirs rather than via unsustainable abstractions.’
Low flows in rivers are highly damaging to a host of aquatic wildlife, to fish stocks and to fishing, which is an important pastime for millions of people in the UK and generates £3.5 billion for the economy. Low water levels do great damage to fish populations and can destroy spawning habitat.
The Angling Trust has recently called on the Government to adopt the measures set out in the Blueprint for Water (http://www.wcl.org.uk/blueprintforwater.asp), which is an integrated strategy for managing water resources more effectively to ensure security of supply and healthy wetlands and rivers for wildlife and recreation. It is supported by 14 organisations including the Angling Trust, RSPB, WWF and the National Trust and was conceived nearly 5 years ago, but there is little evidence that the government is taking the necessary steps to implement it.
Key areas where the Angling Trust believes action should be taken include:
• Building new storage reservoirs to capture winter rainfall
• Fixing water supply leaks (although this becomes less and less cost-effective as some leaks are very expensive to fix)
• Requiring all new developments to be water neutral – i.e. very water efficient and the developer to be required to retrofit water efficiency measures in homes and industry in the same water catchment equal to the amount of new water used
• Removal of drainage to allow water to soak into the ground
• Major public awareness campaigns to reduce water usage from 160 litres per person per day
• Universal metering to ensure that those who waste water pay for it directly
Effects of low flows on fish
• Reduced flows lead to higher temperatures and reduced oxygen levels which make fish more vulnerable to pollution
• Pollution from agriculture, sewage effluent and urban run-off is more concentrated
• Gravels where fish lay their eggs, and invertebrates live, become caked in sediment or exposed to the sun, reducing regeneration of populations of both
• Fish become more susceptible to disease and vulnerable to predation from otters, mink, cormorants, goosanders and herons – by abstracting too much water from rivers we upset the natural balance
• Barriers to migration of fish, such as man-made weirs, become impassable, preventing fish from moving to and from feeding and spawning areas – fish passes often rely on sufficient flow to be effective.
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