Stung by accurate — and inaccurate — criticism of the way it raids the River Kennet to benefit customers elsewhere, Thames Water has taken a new positive direction with a campaign to encourage everyone to save water.
With one particular section of the Kennet running dry for the first time for decades, Thames Water is now offering customers in the Marlborough and Hungerford area free water-saving gadgets for taps, showers and toilets that could help cut utility bills by up to £75 a year.
And in a bid to encourage people to value this increasingly precious resource and use less of it without making drastic changes to their lifestyles, Thames Water has launched Waterwisely, www.thameswater.co.uk/waterwisely, which it describes as the world’s first online water-efficient town.
Customers can log on to Waterwisely to calculate their water use and get a report for their household together with a series of tips for reduce water use – and bills – and make pledges to do so which they can share with friends on Facebook.
People can order a series of free water-saving gadgets from Waterwisely, including tap aerators and water-efficient shower heads, hose pipe triggers, devices to reduce the water used flushing toilets and shower timers, challenging people to take showers of four minutes of or less.
Water for the area comes from underground bore holes feeding the rare River Kennet chalk stream, putting serious strain on the wildlife habitats the river supports, increasingly in the Marlborough area.
Charlotte Hitchmough (pictured), director of Action for the River Kennet (ARK), is giving her support to Thames.
“There simply is no excuse not to take advantage of Waterwisely’s offer of water-saving gadgets — they are completely free and could reduce your utility bills by up to £75 a year,” she said.
“By using less water each of us can reduce the strain on the River Kennet. It’s a no-brainer. ARK will continue to put pressure on all parties to make sure the amount of water going to Swindon is drastically reduced, and in the mean time we can all value every drop of water we use in the Kennet valley.”
Dr Rose Timlett, WWF-UK freshwater programme manager, explained: “This year, low rainfall coupled with abstraction to supply homes in Marlborough, Hungerford and Swindon have taken their toll on the River Kennet. With low flow levels along the river, and some stretches having dried up completely, the recovery of some rivers species including voles and otters could be threatened.”
“The good news is that we can band together to reduce the amount of water we use around the home, and so help to reduce the amount of water that needs to be taken from this river.”
“Each of us uses around 160 litres of water a day and the Government is aiming to get this down to 130. It is estimated that nearly a third of the water we use is unnecessary – so taking up the offer of free water-efficient kit and trying to reduce the amount we use can make a big difference without any big investments or sacrifice from home owners.”
Richard Aylard, Thames Water’s sustainability director, added: “We don’t take water from rivers for fun, or for any other reason than because our customers need it. If they use less, then we will take less.”
“Water-efficiency is not just our responsibility. It is a team effort in which we, our regulators and our customers all have a part to play.”
Meanwhile Thames Water continues to work on a long-term solution to reduce the amount we transfer to south Swindon from our bore hole at nearby Axford. Of the 10 million litres a day on average that the company takes from the aquifer under Axford, six to seven million litres is piped 15 miles north to Swindon, with the rest supplying customers locally.
While the water used locally is returned to the Kennet following treatment at sewage works in the area, the water going to Swindon, once used, is not fed back to the Kennet but rather to the River Ray, a tributary of the Thames.
This means every day the Kennet is losing up to seven million litres, which has the potential to put a lot of strain on the wildlife habitats that the river supports.
That is why positive action is now being taken, though the real answer lies in a £10 million pipeline yet to be built to ensure that the Kennet is not pumped dry.
In order to protect the chalk stream environment, the Environment Agency has said previously that it plans to ask Thames Water to reduce the water it sends to Swindon from Axford by 3million litres per day.
The company is working with the EA on a plan for a £10m pipeline to take water from the River Thames at Farmoor Reservoir, halving Swindon’s reliance on the Kennet.