Cam Valley Forum calls for Cambridge Water to impose a Temporary Use Ban from 1 July

The following motion was presented to the Annual General Meeting of Cam Valley Forum, held on 20th March 2023

In the face of drought, as is still declared by the Environment Agency, and to protect the aquifer sources of our ailing Chalk streams, the Annual General Meeting of the Cam Valley Forum calls on the Cambridge Water Company to act responsibly by instigating Temporary Use Bans from 1st July 2023.

More than 50 members present discussed the reasons for, and implications of this motion and then voted overwhelmingly in favour of it. 

We set out below the reasons for doing this

The need to conserve water-

The failure of the Chalk aquifer to adequately recharge following last summer’s drought is evident from the Environment Agency hydrology reports and, despite recent heavy rain, we are still in drought measures.  We live in an area that has the least rainfall in England and yet our population is expanding more rapidly than elsewhere.  To meet demand, Cambridge Water Company (CWC) is pumping too much water out of our chalk aquifer and this causes our precious chalk springs and streams and village ponds to dry-up.  The current situation is not sustainable, and significant damage is being done to the area’s biodiversity.  We support CWC’s proposals for the new Fen Reservoir, however this will not be in place until after 2035, and so we must find ways to conserve water from now until then.

Raising awareness-

Cambridge Water’s bills include the ‘Waste not one drop’ message and the Cambridge Water website gives advice and support on how to save water, however consumers are still using around 140 litres of fresh water each day and the usage of water increased by an estimated 25% in last summer’s drought.  The most effective way to make people aware of the need to use water sparingly is to impose a Temporary Use Ban (hosepipe ban).  This is justified as a means of helping our depleted aquifer to recover and preventing environmental harm.

We and other local groups, will be broadcasting and publicising the implications of the Environmental Emergency that we are facing and calling on Cambridge Water Company (CWC) to impose the TUB.

Avoiding delays in implementing a TUB-

The UKWIR’s code of practice when considering how to implement temporary use restrictions is flawed!  This is because it takes a minimum of 5 weeks for a TUB to be implemented after the need for it has been triggered.

This delay meant that TUBs were imposed much later than they should have been, for example Yorkshire Water imposed theirs between 26th August and 6th December 2022. The more stringent Non-Essential Use Ban (NEUB) takes 3 months to implement, and so if this summer sees a very severe drought and the justification for a NEUB is triggered in August, it will not be imposed until November!  Water Authorities need to be proactive and anticipate the need for a TUB well in advance.   The justification for the CWC TUB is the need to allow the depleted aquifer to recharge. So we suggest that internal communication and governance, and external communication with the Environment Agency, regional groups, and neighbouring water companies should happen this May.  The 21 days for comments, to include at least 14 days for representations to be made, could then take place at the start of June. The drought management team could then consider representations from individuals or groups in a fair and even‐handed manner, and any decisions made could be communicated to both the individuals or groups and the public before the end of June.  This would allow the TUB to be announced through local press and media in late June ready for implementation by not later than 1st July 2023.

Cambridge Water Drought Plan is not fit for purpose-

Cambridge City Council declared a climate emergency in 2019, and the lack of water is certainly one of the most influential factors in the formulation of the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan.  Why in the light of this, is Cambridge Water’s published level of service is ‘to introduce a temporary use ban or TUB on water use on average not more than once in 20 years’?  Do CWC not envisage taps running dry as water is pumped out from deeper and deeper into the aquifer?  Might this suggest that CWC is not sufficiently meeting the obligations to our natural environment as defined by Water Resources East? 

The CWC Drought Plan states that it is not until Drought Trigger 2 is reached that TUBs would be considered.  At Drought Trigger 2 CWC expect to be experiencing medium severity drought without sign of immediate recovery or lessening of impact.  The impact of such drought conditions would be compounded by the damage to the aquifer sustained by abstraction during previous years’ droughts.  The procedure that requires the lapse of 5 weeks from that trigger point until a TUB can be enforced is not fit for purpose.

We have written to CWC informing them of this motion, and urging them to to work with us in justifying a TUB to be imposed by not later than 1st July 2023, to enable some recharge to our depleted aquifer. 

We received the following reply on 5 April

Letter to minister

We are delighted that Anthony Browne MP for South Cambridge is joining us in calling on Defra to establish a ‘Chalk Streams Task Force’ to develop a Strategy to restore natural flows to Chalk streams.  We have worked with Water Resources East to draw up an eight-point plan to kick-start the Task Force’s work.  We are working to build a strong coalition of support for this initiative, which recognises that national policy on managing our water resources has to change.

You can download Mr Browne’s letter to the DEFRA Minister, Rebecca Pow, and our initial plan below

Publication of our report “Let it Flow!”

River Granta at Stapleford, Sept 2019

Cam valley Forum publishes Let it Flow! – detailed proposals to restore the River Cam

Our new report – Let it Flow! – explains the environmental impact of water abstraction on the Cam Valley and calls for actions in seven main areas to protect and restore the river:

  1. Substantial reductions in groundwater abstraction from the aquifer that feeds our Chalk streams. Where the water environment is being damaged, licences need to be amended or terminated to deliver real cuts in actual abstraction, not just paper savings in licensed amounts
  2. Investment in new sources of public supplies. Proposed strategic north-south transfers of water should be extended to benefit the Cam Valley too. Locally, high river flows should be captured in a new reservoir in the lower Cam Valley, once they have flowed through it in as natural a way as possible, and be redistributed as necessary.
  3. Investment in water reuse and aquifer recharge schemes. Sewage treatment works need to be upgraded to deliver better treated water to be reused for public supplies and to recharge the aquifer and/or to support irrigation.
  4. Investment in the harvesting of rainwater and recycling of greywater. Our local planning authorities need to ensure that schemes to harvest and recycle water become commonplace and help to make Cambridge a ‘Water Sensitive City’.
  5. A step-change in attitudes to water use through metering, leakage control and demand management. Cambridge should become the ‘No. 1’ water-saving city and the Anglian Region the ‘No. 1’ water saving region in England.
  6. Significant reductions in water pollution and investment in work to enhance habitats and natural processes. Action is also needed to: reduce pollution from land, businesses and homes; and to rectify the impacts of past river modifications, which have reduced connectivity between reaches (e.g. weirs) and between rivers and their floodplains.
  7. Improved resilience, not only for public water supplies but also for the environment. An increasing population, economic growth, intensive land management, and climate change, will all bring new pressures to bear on the Cam Valley’s limited and precious water resources. We all have a moral obligation to protect our river environments for future generations to enjoy.

Our 12 further recommendations are being submitted to Water Resources East, the body currently charged with planning the future for water resources in our Region. We want to work with the other members of Water Resources East to create an ‘Integrated Water Resource Management Plan’ to secure the best possible outcomes from this process.

We commend Let it Flow! to everyone with an interest in the environment of the Cam Valley.  We would welcome comments and support and look forward to developing our ideas further in close consultation with all relevant interests in the months to come.

You can download the full Let it Flow! report here and the four-page summary with the 12 recommendations here

River Cam Manifesto

Bourn Brook July 2018

We have today published our River Cam Manifesto to urge everyone to wake up to the fact that all is not well with our rivers.

As the map below from the Environment Agency’s report for July 2019 shows, the flow rate in the River Cam flow is now exceptionally low, at just 33% of the long term average.

In part this exceptionally low river level is due to low rainfall (agravated by climate change), but it is also due to over abstraction of our precious ground water, which is reaching critically low levels.

We see this because our chalk streams, which are a globally important habitat, are drying up. Even when the stream is not totally dry, the water quality is often “poor” because there is insufficient water flow to dilute the pollution from sewage works, sceptic tanks and agriculture.

Few realise that in an attempt to save them, our chalk streams are being artifically augmented. About 20% of the groundwater that is pumped from our aquifiers is pumped to the head of the chalk streams and allowed to flow down them and ultimately out to sea.   This may disguise the problem, but it is no fix, and ignoring it will ultimately be a disaster for us all when the taps run dry.

The only solution is for us all to take action both personally and politically to save water and save our streams. And to start now. This includes:

  • Visiting and caring for our threatened streams
  • All of us using less water
  • Demanding that the new Local Plan requires all new housing developments to use “grey water” (eg for flushing toilets)
  • Requiring water companies to dramatically reduce leakage and invest in new reservoirs, natural water catchment and flood prevention
  • Giving our regulators teeth and the abilty to use them

For more detail read our  River Cam Manifesto

We also recommend the report Chalk Streams in Crisis from the Rivers Trust