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Column 31st July 2019

Don't jump in deep end on reservoir bid before facts are known

On 22 July there was an adjournment debate in Parliament on the Degraded Chalk Stream Environments.

This country has over 85% of the world’s chalk streams (mainly in the South East), and these streams are a unique habitat.

Many MPs spoke passionately about the chalk streams in their constituencies and the impact that water extraction by Affinity Water and Thames Water has on the flow levels.

Several MPs spoke in favour of the Abingdon Reservoir as part of the solution to this problem. Yet there was no mention of the need of the water companies to make progress in fixing their appalling leakage record.

The National Infrastructure Commission has identified leakage reduction as a key to meeting future water needs.

A 50% leakage reduction is now demanded by Ofwat, yet Thames Water's leakage record has deteriorated over the period 2016 to 2018, by an extra 62 million litres per day.

Just this extra leakage (which comes on top of the existing worst leakage record of any UK water company) amounts on its own to about 25% of the total water extracted from the Chiltern Chalk-streams.

In fact even a much lower leak-reduction target than 50% would solve the entire chalk-stream extraction problem once and for all.

In the debate, Dr Therese Coffey MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Life Opportunities stated that:

“I am conscious that the water resource management process has not yet been finalised, but I can genuinely say, even though the Secretary of State has not yet agreed the plans, that I believe that Thames Water and Affinity Water, both of which are promoting the reservoir in their preferred plans, will receive a very warm welcome when they are put forward, so that, as many others have mentioned, we can finally get on with the Abingdon reservoir, which will do a lot”

None of the Oxfordshire MPs attended the debate yet Oxfordshire County Council has formally objected to the reservoir project, and demanded a Public Inquiry.

The District Council has also objected to the proposed reservoir.

Even though a third of the area to be covered by the reservoir is designated flood zone and should not be built on, Thames Water have still not done the detailed design work required for the reservoir.

Those MP’s speaking in the debate in favour of the reservoir should wait for the Public Inquiry and not jump in with both feet now.


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