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Water companies told to forget the reservoir and focus on fixing leaks

Plans for the future of water supplies in the South East, including a giant reservoir between Abingdon, Steventon and East Hanney, have been strongly criticised by Vale of White Horse District Council.

Vale of White Horse District Council has published its response to the recent Water Resources South East (WRSE) public consultation, outlining numerous concerns it has with the draft ‘Best Value Regional Plan’, including the potentially serious impact on the environment and the Vale’s aim to become a carbon neutral district.

The district council says that the South East Strategic Reservoir Option (SESRO) should be removed from the plan and is urging water companies and regulators to instead carry out further research into other water resource schemes and to focus efforts on fixing leaks and improving water efficiency.

The council says the decision to include SESRO in the draft plan has been made without proper consideration of alternative solutions, such as facilitating the transfer water from other areas to meet demand in the South East, or prioritising schemes for recycling water or desalination (removing salt from sea water to turn it into drinking water).

The council also says that the draft plan over-estimates future population figures for the region, it does not properly assess the issues of supply and demand and fails to consider and correctly prioritise all the available options.

The council has serious concerns over the potential environmental impact of the reservoir proposal. The construction of a reservoir would severely impact the local environment and would increase carbon emissions, adversely affecting the Vale’s aim to become a carbon neutral district by 2045. The draft plan does not explain why a scheme that will result in major carbon emissions is being prioritised over schemes that would have less impact.

The council is also concerned about the impact on flood risk in the local area from the proposed reservoir and the potential impact on the landscape and protected species. The council raises concerns about the impact on the road network and on the potential for restoring the Wilts & Berks Canal since the reservoir would cover the route of the canal. The plan also fails to consider the impact on existing solar farms located on the site, on local archaeology, and on the local air quality.

Vale of White Horse District Council recommends that plans should be revised to include significant work to allow people across the region to reuse and recycle water and to encourage them to reduce consumption, which could reduce the need for large infrastructure schemes like the reservoir.

Cllr Bethia Thomas, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “Building a reservoir would cause permanent and irreversible harm to an enormous area of the Vale countryside and potentially result in a significant increase in carbon emissions.

“We should be doing all we can to tackle the climate emergency and much more attention must be placed on the climate impact of this proposal.

“The current plan focusses on supply and providing more water. However, the priority should be on protecting this vital resource and using water more effectively; through fixing leaks, facilitating water recycling and ensuring that residents across the region can play an active and positive role in reducing their consumption.

“There are many better and more innovative solutions than a reservoir which would cost less and be far less destructive for the environment. We urge the water companies, regulators and government to reject this reservoir and come up with a new and sustainable plan for water management in the South East.”

Notes for editors:

In December 2021, Vale of White Horse District Council agreed a motion to: ‘reaffirm its position from the previous public enquiry that it opposes the reservoir proposal unless or until the case for need for this specific solution (over and above the other potential cheaper, less disruptive, and less environmentally impactful solutions) has been clearly tested, demonstrated and agreed by independent scientific experts.’

According to an OFWAT report in November 2022, currently around a fifth of water running through pipes is lost to leakage.

Water Resources South East (WRSE) is an alliance of the six water companies that supply drinking water across South East England.