Category Archives: Water stewardship

Help shape the future of your water supply and protect our rivers

Water companies across the UK are consulting on their Water Resource Management Plans, and as a customer, you have the opportunity to comment on these plans and influence how your money is spent.

What are Water Resource Management Plans?

Since the water and sewerage industry was privatised in 1989, a regulatory framework was put in place to ensure that consumers receive high standards of service at a fair price. As part of this framework, water companies are required to set out how they will balance water supply and water demand; these are the statutory Water Resource Management Plans (WRMPs). These plans feed into the price review process, overseen by Ofwat, and therefore affect what you pay on your bill at home.

Why should I respond?

Water affects every aspect of our day-to-day lives, from having a drink to flushing the toilet. The water we use comes from the environment, taken from our rivers and the underground aquifers that feed our rivers. The more water we take, the less there is to support wildlife.

These plans highlight how the companies plan to meet the demand for more water in the next 25 years and therefore it is important your voice is heard to help protect our precious rivers and streams.

Did you know we are “Seriously Water Stressed”?

Despite its reputation, England is not as rainy as everyone thinks. For instance, London actually receives less rainfall each year than cities like Miami, Dallas and even Sydney. This means that the South East of England is classified by the Environment Agency as “seriously water stressed” and with projected population increases over the next 80 years, all water companies are looking to find more water to meet the increasing demand.

Did you know the south of England is home to globally rare habitats?

The south of England is lucky enough to be home to chalk streams, a globally rare habitat with only 200 remaining worldwide. They are home to many amazing plants and animals, forming the distinct communities uniquely associated with the clean, chalk-purified water.  They rely on there being sufficient water present in the chalk aquifers, and abstraction from these is a serious threat to their existence.

Did you know raw sewage is discharged into our rivers every day?

While these plans are about water resource and water supply to our homes, they are linked to the other function many water companies provide: wastewater. Thames Water and Southern Water provide wastewater services across the south east, taking used water (sewage) from our homes, cleaning it in the sewage treatment works and then returning it to the environment. As part of their sewer network, there are Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). These CSOs act as emergency discharge valves for when the sewer network is overloaded by rainfall, discharging untreated sewage into our rivers and streams to prevent it backing up in pipes and potentially our homes.  The more water we take from the environment, the less natural water there is in the river to dilute these discharges, making their impacts on the ecology of the river worse.

How do I respond?

To respond, you need to know which water company supplies your water.

The plans contain a fair amount of detail and so to help you digest this, over the next 2 months we will be posting a series of blogs on each of water company’s plans to help you understand how they will affect your local environment, and highlight what we think are the key points to raise to see the best improvement for our rivers and streams.

The series will start with Thames Water as their consultation closes on 29th April.

If you can’t wait for our blogs, click your water company’s name below and you will be taken to their consultation page.

Thames Water

SES Water

Southern Water

Affinity Water

South East Water

Better farming practices to help our rivers

The new Farming Rules for Water

From April this year farmers across the country will be following a new set of guidelines that allow them to manage their land in a way that has benefits for them as well as for our rivers, lakes and coastal waters. We welcome this step by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) which will encourage farmers to think about water pollution and the positive steps they can take to reduce their impacts on our wonderful rivers – you can’t turn your nose up at that!

Water pollution is a big issue for rivers, and modern agricultural practices unfortunately play a big part in degrading water quality, especially in rural areas across this green and pleasant land. The manure and manufactured fertilisers that farmers add to their land contain vital nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus that plants need to help them grow healthily.  But when it rains, these nutrients can easily be carried away from the fields, and drain into rivers and other nearby waterbodies. This is called diffuse water pollution, and agriculture is responsible for about a third of the diffuse water pollution in the UK. Although individual incidents may only have a small impact, collectively they can be very damaging. Lakes, rivers and streams cover only 2% of the landscape but the composition of their water reflects the combination of every activity taking place in the area of land they drain (their catchment). These accumulated nutrient levels cause fast growing algae to boom, smothering wildlife and damaging these sensitive ecosystems.

Topsoil is also a valuable resource for farmers because this is where plants lay down their roots. A nice thick layer of good quality topsoil will contain all the nutrients that plants need to survive. Grass provides a great source of food for many farm animals and its roots help to bind the nutrient-rich topsoil together to stop it washing away. As livestock walks across the grass, the animals’ feet can cause damage to the turf, especially in wet and muddy conditions. This is called ‘poaching’ and can increase soil erosion, causing our rivers to run brown after rainfall, which affects the fish and insects which live in them.

Defra’s new Farming Rules for Water will help with these problems:

Farmers must test the soil in their fields every 5 years for nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen. This allows them to better plan how much fertiliser they need to add to make sure the needs of their crops are met but not exceeded; saving them money and improving water quality in the process.

Fertilisers must be stored in a way that doesn’t pose a significant risk of pollution, and they shouldn’t be applied close to rivers and other waterbodies. By not spreading fertilisers on waterlogged or frozen ground, farmers can increase the rate of retention in their fields and less of the nutrients will be washed away.

Reasonable precautions must be taken to reduce soil erosion, and livestock feeders should be positioned away from rivers, lakes and springs. Any land within 5 metres of fresh or coastal waters will have to be protected from soil erosion by preventing poaching by livestock.

A full list of the rules can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/farming-rules-for-water-from-april-2018/farming-rules-for-water-overview

Most farmers will already be doing these things through their current farming practices, but these rules will bring all farms up to this higher standard so that everyone is on a level playing field. Steps like these are really positive and will help British farmers be more profitable and be more aware of their potential impacts on the environment, which in turn will help our rivers.

SERT part of legacy delivering £1.9m for nature

We are delighted that SERT is one of five charitable trusts to have been awarded funding from the Patsy Wood Trust, designed to deliver a lasting impact for the environment.

The projects will benefit rivers, woodland, butterflies and landscapes as well as inspiring young people to care for nature through a new skills and learning centre.

The legacy will fund our new Water For All project, working with businesses and communities across the South East to reduce their water use.

You can read the full press release here: PatsyWoodTrust_JointProjectPressRelease_Nov2017.