River raided to refill reservoir
Southern Water will be allowed to pump extra water from the River Medway to the dangerously depleted Bewl Reservoir.
The reservoir is the largest stretch of open water in South East England and supplies some 400,000 people in Kent and East Sussex.
Due to a summer of drought and a dry winter the reservoir is now at an all-time low, full to just 36% of its capacity.
Southern Water told an independent inspector, who heard the case in early January, that there could potentially be supply problems in the region come the summer if the company was not allowed to abstract more water from the Medway.
The inspector supported the Environment Agency’s view that the exceptional shortage warranted the move and outweighed other environmental concerns.
While there were objections to the application from the CPRE and Kent Fisheries Consultative Association, the inspector ruled that the environmental risk would be sufficiently reduced by an action plan drawn up by the EA.
Under the new agreement Southern Water will be allowed to increase the flow of water into the reservoir as long as the flow in the river stays above 100 megalitres a day.
The normal licence only allowed the water company to divert water into the reservoir when the flow was at least 275 megalitres a day – a figure established in 1992.
Southern Water will have to carry out regular monitoring of the water quality and if any problems develop they will have to stop taking the extra water from the river until the water quality has returned to normal.
Barbara Young, chief executive for the Environment Agency, said: “Bewl Reservoir is an essential water resource for parts of Kent and East Sussex.
“It is important that every opportunity is taken to refill Bewl during the winter months.
“Later on in the year, river levels will naturally fall and demand for water from people and the environment will increase.
“The risk of environmental impact will be manageable, and delaying refilling the reservoir runs the risk that there may not be enough water to supply homes and businesses during the summer.
“We would urge people to continue to use water wisely whenever possible to help conserve this precious resource.”
By Sam Bond