An urgent plea to the residents of Marlborough to use less water now to save the River Kennet from slowly dying is being made to Marlborough town council tonight (Monday) by Richard Aylard ( sustainability director for Thames Water.
It follows in the wake of a national drought appeal by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman urging people to stop being slapdash as they take a shower, wash the car and water the lawn.
Drought orders putting a ban on water use may be on the horizon following two exceptionally dry years in London and the Thames Valley in particular, where records began in 1884.
And only in 1892-3 and 1920-1 has this area seen less rainfall.
The position is worse for the River Kennet, one of only three precious chalk streams in the country, which feeds Swindon as well as the Marlborough area, some of the extracted water at Axford not returning to the Kennet because of the lack of a £10 million pipeline.
“It is no longer a case of if we have a drought this year but rather when, and how bad,” Mr Aylard is due to warn town councillors and members of the public in a special powerpoint presentation.
“This is not just our problem, it’s everyone’s problem and we can all do our bit to help – for example, turning off taps while we brush our teeth can save six litres of water a minute.”
The Thames Valley, he pointed out, has receive below average rainfall for 18 of the past 23 months with the years 1210 and 1211 the third driest two-year period. Now it faces the worst drought since 1976.
Parts of the Kennet have already run completely dry on the western edge of Marlborough where water is extracted at Clatford.
“For this to happen in December was alarming,” added Mr Aylard, ironically a former Royal Navy commander used to water everywhere before he was seconded to work for Prince Charles.
“Normally at this time of year the river would be flowing most strongly following the start of the seasonal groundwater recharge brought about by winter rainfall, which seeps into the ground and tops up the area’s chalk acquifers.”
Under it’s Care for the Kennet river protection campaign, Thames Water is urging customers in Marlborough and the surrounding villages to order free water-saving gadgets from its website – or by phoning 0800 358 6665.
Thames Water’s campaign is backed by Action for the Kennet (ARK), which has been calling for less water extraction at Axford and for the installation of the £10 million pipeline.
ARK director Charlotte Hitchmough revealed: “Chalk streams rely on winter rainfall to recharge the aquifer which keeps the river flowing in the summer. This winter has we have not had enough rain for that to happen, and unless we have a very wet March and April we are facing real problems.”
“It’s heart breaking to see a river slowly dying. We are looking at a drought this summer but everyone can help to reduce its impact by using less water.”
She added: “The Kennet is in a worse state this winter than anyone has ever seen it. Even in the winter of 1976 it was not this low. The upper reaches are dry and many thousands of fish have died.”
“This time of year is spawning season for brown trout, but some of their usual spawning grounds are either completely dry, or just too shallow for the fish to use.”
“Further down the river we are seeing trout nests being dug up by other fish as they fight for space to lay their eggs.”
TOP FIVE WATER-SAVING TIPS:
- 1. Cover outside taps and pipework this winter to avoid bursts and leaks.
- Take shorter showers. Showers use around 10 litres of water a minute. If everyone cut their time in the shower by one minute a day, nationally enough water could be saved to supply London for between two and four months. Over half of people manage to shower in less than seven minutes.
- Turn the tap off when brushing your teeth. Three out of four people turn off the tap while brushing their teeth, saving six litres a minute, which can save a serious amount of water if everyone does it.
- Fix leaking taps. A dripping tap can waste over 60 litres of water per week.
- Fully load your washing machine. A full load uses less that two half loads.