Reacting to news today that the Environment Agency has declared a further 17 counties as ‘drought zones’, the Angling Trust is calling on more water companies to act responsibly and introduce water use restrictions now.
Companies have the power to impose Temporary Use Bans, and should do so, rather than taking risks with the environment. Bringing in restrictions now will make it less likely that environmentally damaging ‘drought permits’ - which would allow the abstraction of even more water than usual from our shrunken rivers - will be needed later in the year. Hoping for the best isn’t good enough when there is so much at stake. Simple and sensible restrictions, such as banning the use of hosepipes must not be regarded as a last resort. They are an essential first step to minimise the impact of drought on our irreplaceable rivers and streams.
On the back of two dry winters and with widespread depletion of groundwater levels and river flows, the Trust believes that more needs to be done now to reduce the demand for water through hard hitting public awareness campaigns and preventative measures to stop wasteful and unnecessary uses such as car washes and watering of lawns. Recent rain has been welcome for gardeners, but has done very little to improve the overall supply of water.
Low flows in rivers are highly damaging to fish stocks and to fishing, which is an important pastime for millions of people in the UK and generates £3.5 billion for the economy, often in rural areas. Low water levels make fishing impossible and also do great damage to fish populations:
- Reduced flows lead to higher temperatures and reduced oxygen levels which make fish more vulnerable to pollution;
- Pollution from agriculture, sewage effluent and urban run-off is more concentrated;
- Gravels where fish lay their eggs, and invertebrates live, become caked in sediment or exposed to the sun, reducing regeneration of populations of both;
- Fish become more susceptible to disease and vulnerable to predation from otters, mink, cormorants, goosanders and herons – by abstracting too much water from rivers we upset the natural balance;
- Barriers to migration of fish, such as man-made weirs, become impassable, preventing fish from moving to and from feeding and spawning areas – fish passes often rely on sufficient flow to be effective.
The Angling Trust calls on the Government to adopt the measures set out in the Blueprint for Water, which is an integrated strategy for managing water resources more effectively to ensure security of supply and healthy wetlands and rivers for wildlife and recreation. It is supported by 14 organisations including the Angling Trust, RSPB, WWF and the National Trust and was conceived nearly 5 years ago, but there is little evidence that the government is taking the necessary steps to implement it.
Priority areas where the Angling Trust believes action should be taken include:
- Building new storage reservoirs to capture winter rainfall;
- Fixing water supply leaks (although this becomes less and less cost-effective as some leaks are very expensive to fix);
- Requiring all new developments to be water neutral – i.e. very water efficient and the developer to be required to retrofit water efficiency measures in homes and industry in the same water catchment equal to the amount of new water used;
- Removal of drainage to allow water to soak into the ground;
- Major public awareness campaigns to reduce water usage from 160 litres per person per day;
- Universal metering to ensure that those who waste water pay for it directly;
- Removal of penalties for water companies introducing water use restrictions such as hosepipe bans.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust said: “If we have a dry summer, many of our rivers and lakes will experience a catastrophic loss of fish and other wildlife. We should not be wasting water washing cars and keeping lawns green when our aquatic environment is under such incredible pressure. Cars do not need to be cleaned, and lawns recover very quickly even after going yellow, but fish populations can take years to recover from a bad drought. Water companies should be encouraged to introduce water restrictions now to avoid having to prevent having to implement emergency drought measures later in the year. Tap water can be better quality than the water people buy in plastic bottles for £2 a litre, but yet we behave as if it were free and unlimited. It’s not and it’s about time that we started to value it as an essential ingredient for life."