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River Wye receives boost as abstraction levels are reduced

Friday 24 July 2020

The water company, which provides water to homes and business throughout the southern Chilterns, has reduced the amount of water that it abstracts from its groundwater sources in High Wycombe by more than seven million litres per day – equal to that used by around 20,000 homes – to help boost flows in the R. Wye and better sustain this rare chalk stream habitat. 

Water has been pumped from boreholes at Pann Mill, beside the River Wye, to meet the needs homes and businesses across the Wycombe area, for over 100 years. As High Wycombe has grown in size and abstraction levels have risen to meet the demands of the  population. Investigations into the impact of water company abstraction in the valley have shown that the levels had risen to environmental unsustainable levels and adversely affected the health of the R. Wye.  As a result of these investigations, Thames Water has reduced the amount of water it pumps from the Pann Mill boreholes to leave more in the ground to support flows in the Wye.  The company is importing water into the valley from boreholes at Medmenham, close to the banks of the River Thames, where there is more water available, to ensure demand for water in the High Wycombe area is met. 

While it is reducing in the amount of water that it abstracts in the Wye valley to help protect this rare chalk streams, the company is also asking its customers to make every drop count to help protect all rivers and wetlands, enable it to further reduce abstractions from chalk streams, and ensure there’s enough water available for future generations.

In the Chilterns average daily water use is around 173 litres per person. This is 30 litres more than the national average and much higher than in countries like Germany, where residents use just 121 litres each, per day. Andrew Tucker, water efficiency manager at Thames Water, said: “Every drop of water we all use comes from the environment so the less we use the more is left in rivers and the underground aquifers that feed them, to sustain wildlife. We’re working hard to reduce the amount of water we lose to leaks and reduced this by 15 per cent last year, but while we continue to do our bit to leave more in the ground to support chalk streams, we also need everyone to use a bit less. It’s vital that at a time when we’re seeing the impacts of climate change and more people move into our area, there’s enough water for everyone. “Really simple changes like spending one minute less in the shower every day, fixing a dripping tap or toilet or watering the garden with a can instead of a hose, can make a massive difference and also save households money on metered energy and water bills.”

Mike Overall, chairman of the Revive the Wye Partnership added: "Since we formed the Revive the Wye Partnership (RTW) in 2008, the many improvements made to the River Wye have increased the quality of the chalk stream, its wildlife and its river margins. RTW volunteers have played a major role in these restoration achievements. Thames Water's decision to reduce the amount of water extraction at Pann Mill will help sustain those improvements and aid further enhancements in the face of high and increasing demands for domestic water." Over the next five years Thames Water will further reduce the amount of water it takes from chalk streams, like the Wye to help protect the environment. This includes the closure of a groundwater source at Hawridge near Chesham, Bucks, by the end of 2024.

Allen Beechey from the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty group said: "Chalk Streams are globally rare with just 260 being found worldwide. 85% of these beautiful streams are found in England. They are our rainforests and we have a special responsibility to conserve them for wildlife and for future generations to enjoy. The chalk streams that flow through the Chilterns AONB are widely regarded to be the most threatened of all chalk streams in the world.  They have suffered increasingly from low flows and dry periods for over half a century as a result of climate change and our ever increasing demand for water. Just last summer 60% of the total length of chalk stream habitat in the Chilterns AONB was dry.  The reduction in abstraction at Pann Mill by Thames Water together with their announcement of a further significant reduction in abstraction at Hawridge, by the end of 2024, is great news for both the River Wye and the River Chess and will go a long way towards reversing the decline of these truly special streams."

Top water saving tips:

  • Don’t fill paddling pools to the brim and, when kids and pets have finished playing in them, use the water to give thirsty plants a drink
  • Use a bucket to wash the car and a watering can to water plants instead of hoses or sprinklers which use a whole week’s worth of water in just one hour
  • Lawns are water hungry. Letting them go brown is ok. Established lawns, even if brown, will bounce back as soon as it rains again so there’s no need to water them
  • Showers normally make up around 25 per cent of an average household’s water usage. Simple reductions in shower time can have a massive impact on overall usage. If a family of four reduce their showers by one minute each they’d save 11,648 litres of water a year
  • Find and fix any leaks in your home including taps and toilets. One in 20 homes has a constantly flowing toilet which uses up to 400 litres of water per day, literally water and money down the pan!
  • Fill a spray bottle with water and spritz it over your face and body for a quick cool down. This uses way less water than showering or spraying yourself and others with the hosepipe
  • Storing a jug of tap water in the fridge is a great way to keep it cold and refreshing. Alternatively, pop some ice cubes in your drink which will help lower its temperature. Both are better than leaving the tap running for ages to get some cool water
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