Southern Water’s dangerous reliance on the Test and Itchen extended till 2035

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  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
Southern Water has delayed the release of Water Resource South East's regional plan following its failure to meet planning deadlines.

Southern Water has fallen behind in drafting its final plan to manage water resources beyond 2024. Yet more delays to major water supply infrastructure means the water company will continue to rely on the Test, Itchen and Candover Brook for extra water in droughts till 2035. It was supposed to find alternatives to exploiting the rivers in 2027. These rivers are already facing severe environmental declines and exploiting them in drought through drought permits could have disastrous environmental consequences, especially for the rivers genetically important and severely declining populations of Atlantic salmon.

Southern Water is due to publish its Water Resources Management Plan 2024 (WRMP) a year behind schedule. Due to substantial changes during the drafting of its plan – in part forced by WildFish – Southern intends to reconsult on its draft plan in October 2023, with its final plan set to be published in June 2024. Southern’s initial draft was woefully inadequate.

Changes to Southern’s plan will impact on the other five water companies in its region and has caused significant delays to regional water resource management. The regional planning group Water Resource South East (WRSE) will be unable to publish its regional plan until after Southern Water’s final WRMP is approved by DEFRA next year.

Although the plans for Thames Water, Affinity Water, South East Water, Portsmouth Water and Sutton & East Surrey Water are set to be published on time, in Autumn this year, the water companies will all have to wait till next year for their regional plan to be released. WRSE, which was due to publish its regional plan this year, will instead release a ‘revised draft’ regional plan this Autumn (which will use Southern’s unapproved delivery dates) and is set to publish its final regional plan in Summer 2024.

Frustratingly, WRSE has no statutory power over Southern Water and must simply adopt whatever timeline the water company decides on.

The cause of Southern Water’s delay

A major water infrastructure project is at the centre of Southern’s delay. The project aims to combine a water recycling plant with Havant Thicket Reservoir to offer Southern up to 80 million litres of water per day. The project would alleviate pressure on the River Test and Itchen, as well as provide a resilient water supply to Southern’s Western Area.

Southern Water has confirmed the completion deadline for the project has now been extended from 2031 to 2035. This news, although extremely disappointing, comes as no surprise. Southern has a track record of delaying and scrapping major water infrastructure projects. Southern’s lax approach to investment and management of water resources is undoubtedly to blame for its current predicament.

Southern is required by law, under a section 20 agreement, to use all best endeavours to have an alternative water resource in place by 2027. Thus, eliminating the need for Drought Orders to be required on the Test, Itchen and Candover Brook. Southern is set to exceed this legal deadline by eight years.

Reliance on already stressed river systems

This lengthy delay could be disastrous for the local ecology – particularly for Atlantic salmon whose numbers in recent years have reached crisis point on these rivers. The Test and Itchen are nationally important chalk streams and will be the only source of water for hundreds of thousands of people for the next dozen years.

This recent news confirms, yet again, that Southern Water is content with falling below the standards of an already poorly performing sector. Are further delays inevitable?

Can the Test, Itchen and Candover and their wild fish populations survive till 2040? 2050?

Clearly something needs to change.

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