WildFish campaigning affords earlier protection for rivers in Wessex Water supply area

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The Hampshire Avon is one of the rivers that Wessex Water extract water from. ©Shutterstock

Last autumn, Wessex Water published its draft Water Resources Management Plan (dWRMP) which sets out how Wessex intends to maintain water supplies to its 1.3 million customers. In these plans, Wessex Water decided to delay making the vast majority of its abstraction reductions until after 2050.

This is despite the damage being caused to rivers by over-abstraction in its supply area, which includes globally rare chalk streams. The decision by Wessex Water to delay intervention for another quarter century is the longest known delay across the water industry.

WildFish has lobbied to bring this deadline forward

As a result of action by WildFish, Wessex Water has now brought forward the majority of its abstraction reductions to 2035 – which is 15 years earlier than previously planned.

WildFish action to bring forward protection for rivers in Wessex Water’s supply area

WildFish submitted a consultation response (February 2023), to Wessex Water and DEFRA, outlining the dangers that could result from delaying abstraction reduction in Wessex Water’s supply area. In its plan, Wessex Water stated that reductions would not be made until it had supply-side solutions in place. Accordingly, WildFish suggested that Wessex Water’s supply-side infrastructure be delivered earlier to accommodate abstraction reductions sooner.

Shortly after the consultation response, WildFish released a blog (March 2023) which used Wessex Water’s 2050 target as a case study to highlight the industry’s low prioritisation of ceasing unsustainable abstraction.

WildFish raised its concerns, over Wessex’s abstraction reduction timeline, with senior staff from the Environment Agency (EA) in early July 2023. Following increasing pressure from WildFish and the EA, Wessex Water released an updated timeline on the 31st of July.

What happens next?

The outcome is only a partial success. The revised timeframe set out by Wessex Water is still too long for rivers and wild fish populations to remain unprotected from over-abstraction. There is still plenty more work for WildFish to do to secure abstraction reductions earlier for all over-abstracted rivers in Wessex’s supply area.

With further pressure, WildFish believe additional improvements to Wessex’s timeline are possible.

Wessex Water’s revised draft WRMP is due out in the autumn. WildFish will be examining the plan and hopes to see radical improvements throughout.

Understanding the scale of the problem

Currently, the water industry removes around 700 million litres of water per day from rivers which cannot be naturally replenished and therefore is deemed ‘unsustainable’.

Unsustainable abstraction increases water temperature and the concentration of pollutants in rivers. It also makes it harder for wild fish to overcome in-river barriers and migrate to complete their life cycles.

Support our campaign to keep water in rivers

Water companies must not depend solely on our rivers to meet water supply demands. Write to your MP and ask them where water in your supply area is coming from.

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