Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by The River Chess Association

We have read the Water White Paper and are encouraged by the proposals on abstraction and diffuse pollution. We are doing our part to promote efficient use of water to reduce demand and are prompting public awareness through our website, Facebook page and Twitter account. We are also getting this message to the younger generation through hosting local school visits to the river. We monitor the health of the River Chess through measuring river fly life and work to improve wildlife habitat. Through this work we have noticed two major issues, low flows due to excessive abstraction and low rainfall and pollution from sewage discharges. A combination of both these events could lead to an environmental disaster for the River Chess.

The EFRA inquiry is an opportunity for the River Chess Association to voice our concerns regarding the omission of the combined sewage overflow. It is important to point out that the White Paper is vague on what action will be taken to reduce abstraction levels in the years leading up to the proposed licensing legislation change in 2027. It is also less than clear as to what rivers like the Chess will stand to gain from the proposed “ramping up” of the EA’s Restoring Sustainable Abstraction programme, particularly as the paper suggests that abstraction reduction will not be pursued in catchments where it is considered to be unfeasible on financial or technical grounds. The Chess is just one of many catchments where this exception clause is being used.

In particular Government sanctioned sewage discharges are not addressed in the Water White Paper, this issue has been successfully buried. This is a major disappointment as we are constantly reminded of the damage these discharges can do. Only on the 8th December 2011 Thames Water were fined for the damage done in the Silchester Brook in Hampshire and Foudry Brook in Berkshire by such an incident. During 2011 there were similar incidents on the rivers Crane, Arun and Thames with many thousands of fish and invertebrates being killed.

The issue of sewage discharges is discussed in Section 4 Planning and building for the future. Specifically in 4.26 it states that “In 2010 over 60% of serious pollution incidents were caused by the failure of the sewerage network (such as sewer collapses and combined sewer overflows)” and in 4.27 “We recognise that planning, and in particular longer term planning, for sewerage infrastructure has had less focus than that for water supply.” Despite these comments there is nothing in the Water White Paper Section 7 Conclusions that addresses the issue. Government continues to approve sewage discharges into our rivers and coastal areas, the Water White Paper should set out a schedule for this odious practice to be phased out.

Here on the River Chess we watch the weather forecast with trepidation. We face the dilemma of needing rain to recharge the aquifer to bring flow back to the upper Chess but hoping it is not too heavy to trigger a sewage discharge. A discharge now will be devastating as flow rates are as low as we have ever seen them.

We appreciate this is a difficult task but we do see the need for more “focus” on the issue of sewage discharges and a structure and policy for reduced abstraction, particularly now as we face the distinct possibility that the Chess will be dry this summer. We look forward to seeing these points being taken up in future Government plans.

23 January 2012

Prepared 4th July 2012