Chalk stream health fears a threat to River Ver in St Albans

The River Ver at Sopwell. Photo courtesy of Jacqui Banfield-Taylor

The River Ver at Sopwell. Photo courtesy of Jacqui Banfield-Taylor - Credit: Jacqui Banfield-Taylor

An environmental report revealing the shocking state of England’s chalk streams has failed to surprise a local author, who warns our own River Ver is threatened by a catalogue of problems.

In a study, conservation lobby group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) found that over three-quarters of England’s unique chalk streams were in poor health.

Author of the report The State of England’s Chalk Streams, WWF-UK water policy manager Dr Rose O’Neill, said there was an urgent need to restore chalk streams in light of a multitude of threats to their unique ecosystems posed by abstraction, sewage and agricultural pollution.

The chalk aquifer makes up 70 per cent of the public drinking water supply in south-east England.

But the report classes it as being in poor health, with phosphates and nitrates at levels which pose a risk to drinking water supplies.

The organisation has called upon the government to comprehensively reform water abstraction licensing by 2016, including compulsory metering across chalk stream catchments.

It also wants water companies to meet a zero pollution incident target by 2020.

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Bricket Wood resident Jacqui Banfield-Taylor, author of The River Ver A Meander Through Time, explained that the Ver, which she describes as “liquid gold”, has been known to be dry as far as Park Street, largely due to abstraction and reduced rainfall which results in devastating effects on the flora and fauna.

The first pump to supply St Albans with water was sunk in 1865, and between the 1950s and 1990s the course of the Ver above St Albans was shortened by 10km.

Jacqui said: “It is threatened by a catalogue of problems, not least the lack of water - chalk streams are wonderful places but we all need to save water to help their future survival.

“Looking after a river like the Ver goes far beyond keeping it clear of blockages and tidying its banks … getting people involved with its continued protection is vital.

“For those who are involved in caring for our precious chalk streams, the WWF report contains many facts we are sadly already aware of.”

Green Party district councillor Simon Grover said: “I welcome this report. We’ve had our own problems with pollution in the River Ver, so I urge the local and national authorities to do all they can to act upon it.”

Why our water consumption must drop in St Albans

When it comes to water consumption it would appear that we are very greedy in St Albans, along with our neighbours throughout the county.

River Ver expert Jacqui Banfield-Taylor explained that Herts had one of the highest water usage rates in the UK with each person using an average of 170 litres of “precious water per day with 60 per cent coming from the aquifer, yet it is also one of the driest counties in the country”.

From its source in the Chilterns’ foothills the River Ver, when in full flow, meanders for about 24km through its valley to Bricket Wood, where it joins the River Colne.

The groundwater catchment covers about 100 square kilometres.

Jacqui said the majority of the public was “unaware of the damage to the environment and chalk streams due to over-abstraction”.

Such waterways should be seen as an asset and not a commodity by authorities and the public.

She said factors affecting the Ver, apart from over-abstraction, included pollution, as seen recently at the bottom of Holywell Hill where sewage leaked from a business, and population growth.

Water leakage to be reduced says Affinity

Affinity Water will decrease customers’ bills by five per cent - in real terms - and invest more than £500 million to improve water infrastructure between 2015 and 2020.

In response to feedback from over 12,500 customers to a consultation last year the water supply company has also, in its new business plan, agreed to ensure a secure long term high quality supply.

The decrease in charges follows Affinity’s acceptance of a final determination of price controls by the Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat).

Its water saving programme focuses on encouraging more efficient use of the precious resource, with the amount taken from the environment to be cut by 42 million litres per day by 2020.

In a statement, Affinity said that water leakage would also be reduced over the next five years by a further 14 per cent, to save more than 27 million litres per day.

Affinity provides 900 million litres of water a day to a population of more than 3.5 million in various areas including Herts.

The River Ver is failing to meet good ecological status.