PROWATER: Protecting and Restoring Raw Water Sources through Actions at the Landscape Scale
Before reaching rivers or groundwater, rainfall moves through a mosaic of different ecosystems and natural features that influence the flow of water. Healthy soils, wetlands, woodlands and grasslands all support the storage, drainage and slow release of water, contributing to a resilient ecosystem and water supply.
In the South East, most of our drinking water comes from chalk groundwater bodies, replenished by winter rainfall soaking through soils. They also support our rare chalk streams. The rest comes from rivers like the Medway, where it is pumped into reservoirs to be available when needed.
Often, however, these natural features are degraded. For example, we’ve lost 40% of wet grasslands since the 1970s to agricultural drainage, and a fifth of our rivers is measurably impacted by abstraction. The consequence is a loss of natural areas and wildlife as well as ‘ecosystem services’, such as clean and plentiful water, that nature provides. Climate change and a growing population put even more pressure on our already stressed ecosystems.
PROWATER, funded by the Interreg 2 Seas European Regional Development Fund, aims to increase the implementation of ‘Ecosystem based Adaptation’ (EbA) measures to climate change. These restore ecosystems to improve water retention at the landscape scale, improving long term stability of groundwater levels and river base flows. The project involves cross border cooperation between ten partners from the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands. It is running from September 2018 to March 2023. In South East England, we are working on three pilot areas led by South East Rivers Trust, South East Water and Kent County Council.
South East England is one of the driest parts of the UK, classified as seriously water stressed by the Environment Agency. By 2050, we could face a water shortage of one billion litres per day.
We already use a large proportion of the water that we naturally have available – partly because of the large number of people living in the region, and partly because each person uses a lot of water – up to 17 litres more per person, per day than the national average.
Climate change means we are already experiencing drier, hotter summers and wetter winters, with more extreme rainfall events becoming more common. This could increase demand for water, while also making its availability less reliable. By 2050, we could be short of drinking water by at least 1 billion litres per day in the region.
What are we doing about it?
PROWATER is trying to tackle this issue by restoring our degraded landscape so that they can continue to provide a resilient water supply into the future. This includes restoring healthy soils and wetlands, chalk grasslands and other natural features, through investment from those that benefit from these measures (also known as ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ ). Investing in our ‘natural capital’ is becoming ever more important and starting to be at the forefront of policy making, for example in the new Environmental Land Management Schemes. Similar programmes already exist to incentivise carbon capture and water quality improvements.
How will PROWATER help?
Three areas are the focus of the project: the River Beult (Medway catchment in Kent), the Little Stour (Kentish Stour catchment) and Friston Forest (Cuckmere catchment, East Sussex). You can find out more about them by scrolling to the ‘Resources’ section. To create a robust framework for funding, the project is building on 4 work packages:
Policy: We are making an effort to link to existing policies and plans in our region and beyond to direct our focus, and use the evidence we create to in turn inform policies of the future. This will include producing guidance on the creation of PES schemes, identifying stakeholders and overcoming barriers to delivery on the ground.
Evidence: A robust understanding of our catchments and how climate change affects them informs what nature-based solutions can be delivered and their impact on water resources and other benefits. We are using GIS-based spatial prioritisation methods and established ecosystem service quantification tools to make informed choices about what we invest in, and where.
Collaboration: To scale up what we can achieve, we need to work with partners for a long term vision. We are creating different scenarios for how nature-based solutions could make catchments resilient to climate change and support other aims, such as nature recovery. Working closely with our partners, we will create a funding mechanism that can deliver this long-term vision.
Demonstration: We are delivering demonstration sites on the ground to showcase how nature-based solutions can be delivered to support water resources, and monitor their impacts. Each site has been identified using the PROWATER spatial targeting process and in collaboration with partners.
What are the ecosystem-based measures we are trialling?
Soil stores, purifies, retains and drains water – regulating its flow to groundwater bodies and rivers alike, and playing a key role in water quality by taking up nutrients or releasing sediment. Soils, however, are mostly not in a good condition.
There is a wide range of ways in which soils can be managed regeneratively to restore their health. We are monitoring the impact of more diverse plant species (herbal leys) on the infiltration and drainage ability of soils both on heavy clay and permeable chalk soils. You can read more here.
Currently, a total 5.7 ha have been seeded with a diverse mix by two farmers who are working with us, and more is being planned. Soil sampling has been undertaken on both sites, and soil moisture profile probes are monitoring the movement of water into the soil and, in the case of the chalk site, groundwater body.
Live monitoring data for one site near Biddenden (Kent) can be accessed here (with funding from the CaBA Water Resources Fund).
Username: biddendenpublic & Password: WaterResources
Friston Forest - Pilot Action Plan: Detailing background and evidence to support targeting of ecosystem based adaptation measures for the Friston Forest Pilot (click to download).
Little Stour & Nailbourne - Pilot Action Plan: Detailing background and evidence to support targeting of ecosystem based adaptation measures for the Little Stour Pilot (click to download).
PROWATER Launch Conference: In March 2019, we hosted the Rivers Trust Spring Conference - PROWATER launch in Canterbury. Click to find presentations from the day.
Nature-based Solutions for resilient Water Resources - Workshop Report: Summary of discussions at a PROWATER workshop in May 2021, attended by 26 representatives of the regional water companies and Environment Agency, Natural England, and Water Resources South East (click to download).
Working across borders helps us to be more innovative, share experiences, and access a wide range of expertise. Interreg 2 Seas is a European territorial cooperation program for the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and Belgium (Flanders). 10 partners from Flanders, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are working together on PROWATER. In each country, water companies, governments and research institutes, as well as land managers, are involved in order to achieve a shared vision.
The partners from Flanders are: de Vlaamse Overheid (Departement Omgeving), Universiteit Antwerpen, provincie Antwerpen, PIDPA and Natuurpunt
The partner from the Netherlands is: Waterschap Brabantse Delta
The partners from the United Kingdom are: Westcountry Rivers Trust, Kent County Council, South East Water and the South East Rivers Trust.