Westminster View

Whenever Britain and, in particular London, is portrayed in film it is invariably raining. Ask any foreigner anywhere in the world about Britain and they will say it rains…. a lot.

This stereotype, like all stereotypes, has a ring of truth in it but it’s far from the whole truth. Rome, the Eternal City bathed in sunshine, has more rain on average than London. Scotland rarely has drought conditions.

Certainly, our green and pleasant land is just that, but it doesn’t rain all the time everywhere and we don’t have an inexhaustible supply of the wet stuff every year. This is a growing problem nationally and here in Hampshire.

So much of a problem the Environment Agency warned earlier this month England faces drought conditions by 2050 unless urgent action is taken.

It challenged water companies to plug their leaking networks that are losing the equivalent to 20 million people's water usage every day. That’s an incredible three billion litres of water lost through leaking pipes every 24 hours.

Combine this waste with population growth and increased individual water usage and we have the potential of significant shortages in a few decades even if we leave aside the complex issue of climate change and what that could mean to supplies good or bad.

It’s clear then that more needs to be done and more organisations need to work together to solve these problems which in Hampshire are acute and are, for example, putting severe strain on our world-famous chalk streams because we take water from them.

Some good news is that Southern Water and the Environment Agency (EA) have reached a landmark agreement to better work together to tackle this looming water crisis and protect our environment. The agreement was borne of a disagreement when the EA made water abstraction licence changes mainly due to the European Union’s Habitats Directive and domestic conservation legislation.

The immediate changes covered the River Test and Itchen and reduced the total amount of water that can be pumped out to protect these chalk streams by reducing abstraction in periods of low flows and to stop abstraction altogether during a drought.

Southern Water said the changes meant it could not guarantee supplies to its customers in a drought. A public inquiry was called but the two bodies have reached an agreement that is both parties’ interests and, importantly, in the interests of protecting the Test and Itchen.

Southern Water has accepted the new licences and better environmental monitoring but the EA has given the company reassurances over how it will maintain supplies in drought conditions while new ways of supplying water are brought online in the next ten years.

These new supplies include sourcing more water from Portsmouth Water, building a large desalination plant, undertaking wastewater recycling schemes, reducing leaks and promoting water efficiency.

All this will cost millions, but there is a recognition it needs to be done to avoid Hampshire’s participation in the 2050 cliff edge and environmental catastrophe in our chalk streams. Defra still needs to agree to the plan but it will benefit the River Test and Itchen and help secure future supplies. I’m confident it will soon be in action.