EA instructs Thames Water to remove ‘unknown’ sustainability reductions from plan

Thames Water has revised its water resource management plan (WRMP) after receiving instructions not to factor in "long-term risk associated with the future and unknown sustainability reductions" by Defra and the Environment Agency (EA).

As a result, Thames Water has launched a seven-week public consultation on its updated plans for meeting predicted demand for water between 2010 and 2035.

The consultation, which opened Monday (December 12), reflects amendments to Thames Water’s water resource management plan, following recommendations resulting from a public inquiry in summer 2010, as well as guidance from the EA.

One significant change to the plan is the removal of the proposed Upper Thames Reservoir.

Speaking exclusively to edieWater, EA regional principal water resources adviser Vicky Antram said it instructed Thames Water to revise its WRMP after EA planning inspector concluded that the plan must delete all programmes which factor “long-term risk” and “unknown” reductions for inclusion of a “wider range of feasible options”.

Evidence was provided by the EA at a public inquiry, where it acted as an expert witness. In the inquiry the EA disagreed that the Upper Thames Reservoir was needed to account for “uncertainties”, claiming the draft WRMP included “an additional volume of water above its demand forecast to account for future uncertainties”.

Ms Antram told edieWater: “We worked closely with Thames Water to resolve as many of the issues with their plan as possible ahead of the inquiry and agreed three statements of common ground with the company.

“Amongst others, we did not agree with the issue around Thames Water’s inclusion of additional demand for long term risk. With regards to the issue of ‘long term risk’, the company had included in its draft water resource management plan an additional volume of water above its demand forecast to account for future uncertainties.”

Instead, the EA requested that Thames Water identify “manageable risks” and said its “long-term risk uncertainties” should have been taken into account through “sensitive analysis”.

As a result, the reservoir has been replaced with a number of smaller schemes, which a Thames Water spokesperson told edieWater include groundwater enhancement, aquifer recharge, storage and recovery.

In addition to these changes, minor alternations have been made to the plan, which Thames Water said continue to focus on reducing demand for water by reducing leakage, installing water meters and promoting water efficiency to 2020.

Thames Water director of external affairs and sustainability Richard Aylard said the plan reflects increasing water shortage issues in the south east.

He said: “Sixteen of the last twenty months have seen below-average rainfall across London and Thames Valley, and if we don’t get close to average rainfall this winter there is a very real possibility of a drought next year.

“This highlights what we already know – that supplies are already stretched and we have to act now to ensure we can provide enough water to meet our customers’ needs now and in the future.”

Public consultation on the draft final plan runs from Monday December 12 2011 until Tuesday January 31 2012.

Meanwhile, future sustainability reductions will be confirmed by the EA for the next plan 2015-2040, which will be consulted on in spring 2013. The EA told edieWater these include investigations into Lower Thames abstractions, including the River Wye and Waddon Ponds on the River Wandle, and the impact of Thames Water abstractions on flows.

Ms Antram told edieWater: “We are working with Thames Water on its programme of environmental investigations into company abstractions that could be unsustainable, that are funded through its price review process.

“In spring 2012 we will publish a new version of the water resource planning guidance jointly with Defra, the Welsh Government and Ofwat. This guidance provides a framework for water companies to follow in developing and presenting their water resources plans. It will reflect the Government’s Water White Paper and will ensure likely sustainability reductions can be included within water resource management plans.”

Information on the inquiry can be found here.

Carys Matthews

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