Rivers and their wildlife are currently highly stressed because of low flows caused by low rainfall, high demand and over-reliance on chalk aquifer abstraction. Add high temperatures and many species will be struggling.
Impacts on chalk streams are especially acute: classic flora and fauna including water crowfoot and Atlantic salmon need good flows, rich in oxygen, and steady cool temperatures: all are impacted during drought. At lower flows there is also less dilution of pollution, which in clear chalk rivers can contribute to significant algal blooms.
Our chalk streams are internationally important yet still bear the brunt of our water supply over large areas. Together with reduced usage, wastage, and leakage, we want to see long-term improvements in catchment hydrology, using nature-based solutions to improve aquifer recharge, retention, and resilience. These measures need to be implemented alongside the provision of alternative water sources such as surface water reservoirs and water recycling.
Alongside efforts to reduce abstraction, we need to improve the resilience our chalk streams to low flows and drought conditions. Many chalk streams have been subjected to historic channel modifications (such as dredging) which means do not cope well with lower summer flows. We are helping to improve that by making them more natural again, restoring their resilience.
In the meantime, it is critical that we all use water wisely because every long shower or garden sprinkler is talking water from the same source as our fragile chalk streams, further depleting rivers at their most stressed moment. Limiting usage now might avoid extra being water from rivers. People value rivers more than ever for clean water, physical and mental wellbeing, and a connection to wildlife. We owe it to ourselves to look after them in this way.
With climate change such events are likely to become more frequent and more severe, so a shifting in our thinking is needed – we all need to adapt to new ways of using less water and using recycled water.
We do not believe that enough mitigation is in place yet for a Drought Order to be confidently used. We hope Southern Water and other water companies in our region will move very quickly to work with the public and avoid the need to take water from emergency sources.