Chalk streams receive boost as Affinity Water turns off the pump

Sunday 27 September 2020

On 27th September, World Rivers Day, Affinity Water, which provides water to homes and businesses throughout the central and northern Chilterns, announced that it had voluntarily switched off its groundwater pumping stations in the upper Chess catchment to better sustain flows in the river.  

The move follows years of investigation, trials, and collaborative efforts by the company, the Environment Agency and Thames Water supported by the River Chess Association and the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project, which had concluded that the amount of water being taken from the chalk aquifer was having a detrimental impact on flows in the river.

This action marks the culmination of efforts by local community groups in the valley and the CCSP in calling for more to be done to improve flows in the river, and follows on from the impact of last year’s drought and the Chalk Streams in Crisis campaign that highlighted the plight of England’s Chalk Rivers.  There are just 260 chalk streams to be found on the planet and, of these, the chalk streams that flow through the Chilterns are widely regarded as the most threatened of all. 

Members of Affinity Water, Chilterns Conservation Board, Chilterns Chalk Streams Project and The River Chess Association mark the event on World Rivers Day at the River Chess. From left: Allen Beechey; Project Officer, Chilterns Chalk Streams Project, Dr Elaine King; CEO, Chilterns Conservation Board, Jake Rigg; Director of Corporate Affairs, Affinity Water, Pauline Walsh; Chief Executive, Affinity Water, Paul Jennings; Chairman, River Chess Association, Tony Cocker; Chairman (Non executive), Affinity Water.

According to Affinity Water, the announcement of reductions to abstraction in the Chess valley, and its commitment to end abstraction from the Ver catchment upstream of St. Albans and from the whole of the River Mimram catchment in 2024, mark the start of the company's ambition to restore to health the globally rare chalk streams in its supply area.

Affinity Water are not the only water company who have committed to reducing abstraction in Chilterns chalk stream catchments.  Thames Water announced earlier in the summer that it had reduced the amount of water that it abstracts from its groundwater sources in High Wycombe by more than seven million litres per day.  In a similar case to the Chess, investigations in the Wye Valley revealed that abstraction had risen to environmentally unsustainable levels, that were adversely affecting the health of the river.  By importing water into the valley from boreholes at Medmenham, where there is more water available, Thames Water will ensure the demand for water in the High Wycombe area is met, whilst helping the Wye to recover.  Thames Water also plans to cease abstraction at their pumping station in the upper Chess catchment by the end of 2024.

Allen Beechey, CCSP Officer, said: "Just last summer, more 60% of the total length of chalk stream habitat in the Chilterns AONB was dry. The effects of climate change on the health of chalk streams are as undeniable as the impact of our high water use. It is clear that, if we are to protect the chalk streams that we cherish, we need to leave more water in the environment than ever before.”  

The significant reductions in abstraction that Affinity and Thames Water have committed to, and their desire to move towards more environmentally sustainable sources of water, represent a step change in the way in which streams like the Chess, Ver and Mimram are valued and will go a long way towards reversing the decline of these truly special streams.


The R. Chess at Latimer in August 2020:  A vision of what Chilterns chalk streams could look like in future.


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