The Association has called on water companies and the Environment Agency to take action to protect the River Chess as groundwater levels hit a record low.

The R. Chess is one of a small number of chalk streams which flow into the R. Colne from their source in the Chilterns. Chalk streams  rely on water held in the underlying chalk aquifer for their flow. In the Chilterns area and the Chess and Misbourne Valleys in particular, groundwater levels have fallen to the lowest levels on record for October, as a consequence of below average rainfall last winter. 

Like the Chess, water companies Thames Water and Affinity, also rely on the chalk aquifer to supply business and the general public with clean water.  

On 10th November Affinity Water issued an update on water resources for this region reporting them as being between "Below Average" and "Low". In stark contrast the Environment Agency groundwater observation borehole levels at Ashley Green and Amersham Road, which provide data for the Chess and Misbourne, both recorded the lowest October groundwater levels on record.

The message from Affinity to its customers is: ‘Please save water’.  However well intended this message might be the River Chess Association believes the company are understating the seriousness of the situation and are frustrated that the company is not taking greater steps to reduce demand for water and protect the river.

Thames Water, who also abstract water in the Chess valley to supply communities outside of the catchment, such as Tring, have explained that under their current Drought Management Plan there is little they can do for the Chess despite the record low groundwater levels. Association Chairman Paul Jennings believes that this highlights how inadequate  Drought Management Plans currently are in respect of the River Chess.

Jennings commented, "We would hope that the Environment Agency are talking to both water companies and asking them to take voluntary action to reduce abstraction from the Chess catchment, considering the depleted state of the aquifer and the fact that the river has been dry through Chesham for over a year."   

Winter rains are particularly important for chalk streams as it is rainfall during the months October to March that soaks into the ground to recharge the groundwater store. The prospects of a second dry winter, which Jennings thinks has been made more likely by October being so dry, will only compound an already desperate position for the river.  As a consequence, the Association believe that water restrictions should already be in place, to both curb water use and to send a message to the general public as to the seriousness of the situation and has asked Affinity Water why this has not happened and for them to explain the difference between their position and that of the Environment Agency.

"Our monitoring shows that flow rates downstream of Chesham are now declining.  Low rainfall and water company abstraction add up to a dry river. If the water companies are not prepared to issue water restrictions for the Chess catchment they should consider reducing abstraction levels or even turning off abstraction pumps to stop the river drying up any further. In light of changing weather patterns, my view is that current  levels of abstraction are unsustainable and if we want healthy chalk streams in the future, water companies must be required to find alternative sources of water for their customers.”

The possible impact of abstraction on flows in the upper River Chess is currently the focus of an investigation which is being carried out by the Environment Agency, Affinity Water and Thames Water. The report on the investigation is due to published in March 2018.


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