South Cambs MP: From the River Cam to our village ponds, we are seeing waterways run dry

The River Cam prior to water shortage. Picture: Phoebe Taplin

The River Cam prior to water shortage. Picture: Phoebe Taplin - Credit: Archant

Anthony Browne, MP for South Cambridgeshire led a delegation of groups and businesses concerned about the county’s ailing water levels – affecting RSPB Fowlmere and more – to discuss tackling the crisis with the government minister for floods and water.

South Cambs MP Anthony Browne. Picture: Stephen Frost

South Cambs MP Anthony Browne. Picture: Stephen Frost - Credit: Archant

Villages across South Cambridgeshire have seen their ponds almost vanish, while low levels at wildlife havens are impacting the plants, invertebrates and wildlife the area should have in abundance.

Water abstraction from the chalk aquifer, worsened by below-average rainfall and groundwater recharge over successive winters, has led to low flows in local rivers. And with groundwater levels in the South East now at the lowest level ever recorded, Cambridgeshire’s chalk streams remain at significant risk.

The record-breaking dry start to summer has exacerbated local concerns, with an estimated 40 per cent increase in water usage due to COVID-19 restrictions on movement alone.

Robin Price, managing director of Water Resources East, Dr Alan Woods of the Cam Valley Forum and a representative from the Cambridge Water Company discussed potential solutions to these problems with Environment Minister Rebecca Pow including promoting better water efficiency in new developments, proposed infrastructure investments to reduce leakage and a wholesale review of the area’s water status.

Following the meeting, Anthony Browne MP said: “I welcome the opportunity to meet with the minister alongside experts in this field to discuss our ambition to tackle the burgeoning water crisis which is enveloping the county.

“From the River Cam to the smallest village pond, come the summer we are seeing our waterways run dry. Our farmers and wildlife rely on these – a continuing decline would have a stark impact on our local economy, the livelihoods of local people and the availability of local produce and wildlife.

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“This is a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a visionary strategy which could have a lasting impact not only on an environmental level, but also on the quality and quantity of water available to residents for decades to come. We need to act while we can before the taps start to run dry.”

Robin Price, managing director of Water Resources East, said: “It was a pleasure to meet productively with Mr Browne and the Minister to voice our concerns. With further developments on the horizon, Cambridgeshire needs the reassurance of better water efficiency standards, water storage and infrastructure improvements.

“There are significant opportunities to test such methods in South Cambridgeshire, and I look forward to working with Mr Browne and DEFRA to ensure that we move forward and secure the best outcome possible.”

Dr Alan Woods, representing the Cam Valley Forum, added: “I am grateful to Rebecca Pow MP for making the time to see us on this very important local issue. Water abstraction from the chalk aquifer needs to be reduced so that underground water levels rise and springs flow naturally throughout the year, every year, whatever the weather. Action is needed now to curtail water demand while we await new investment in alternative sources of water.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

“I met with Anthony and representatives from the Cambridge area and share their concerns about low water levels in rivers and chalk streams across the area. We are taking action to protect these resources by pushing abstractors to reduce the amount they take from vulnerable habitats such as chalk streams.

“The recent dry weather reminds us that we must all work harder to tackle the additional pressure climate change puts on our water resources and ensure we have enough for the future. I urge people to listen to their water provider’s advice alongside public health guidance to help save water and protect our natural heritage.”