Precious Water

Quick LInks

How we use water (12th July)

The water survey (April-June 2024) asks how we use water - because water saving is not just a question of efficient technology, how we use it is also important. Even with no population growth we need to reduce water consumption, because of the chalk streams crisis and, nationally, because of climate change. Nicola Terry will present the results of the survey and Daniel Clark from Cambridge Water Company will explain plans for reducing the amount of water we take from the environment - reducing demand and increasing supply.

The event will take place on 12th July at 7.30 pm at the Friends Meeting House on Jeses Lane. Book here (free). This event is co-organised with Cambridge Carbon Footprint and is part of Open Eco Homes.

Pure Clean Water

Have you seen the film 'Pure Clean Water' about the history of Hobson's Brook and how it has declined due to water shortage? If you have not already seen it, find another showing. It is a lovely film. More about Pure Clean Water here.

Government proposed water efficiency measures for Cambridge

Government plans for growth in the Cambridge area are currently stymied by the lack of water. There are long term plans for new reservoirs and a pipeline to allow water transfer from Grafham Water, plus 'nature based solutions' alongside targets to reduce demand. In the short term there are proposals for up to 4.5 million for water saving devices to be retrofitted into existing buildings. This will be mainly targetted at commercial and public buildings like schools and leisure centres but also social housing. For new developments, a water credits system is proposed. More here: Addressing water scarcity in Greater Cambridge: update on government measures

The efficiency measures will be a step forward. However, it does not make sense to allow any further growth until we have reached the targets for reducing demand and our precious rivers and chalk streams are in a satisfactory condition.

Enviroment Agency rules that Cambridge must reduce water abstraction

Water supply in Cambridge is an increasingly critical issue. Supply is tight and the Environment Agency has ruled that Cambridge Water must reduce abstraction of water from the chalk aquifers to protect our precious chalk streams. As of July 2021 we are officially a water stressed area. The Environment Agency has objected to several new housing schemes because of projected increase in water demand (Water supply fears prompt first housing objections - BBC, June 2023). You can read a summary of Cambridge Water's current water resource plans here. These include drastic reductions in leakage and also in per capita consumption from around 140 litres/person/day down to 110. That means us!

Precious water videos

Watch our four short videos about the conflict between our water use and protecting our precious streams and rivers (including the Cam) - and what we can do about them. We made them for Earth Optimism 2021.

View Stephen Tomkins's talk on "Safeguarding our local water resources" here.

Here in Cambridge our water come from underground, mostly from the chalk under the Gog Magog Hills. This is a great resource as it acts as a giant reservoir, plus the water is filtered naturally by the chalk as it flows down into the aquifer. However, the same aquifer feeds streams that provide important habitat for wildlife. If the level drops too far then those streams can dry up - as they did in summer 2019. The flow in the River Cam was reduced to a trickle too for the same reason. It only takes one or two dry winters for this to happen. See this demo for how our water use affects the chalk streams.

What can we do?

The main thing is to use less water, both at home and in the garden. Here are some tips but there are links to more help on the Links page.

  • Fix dripping taps
  • Do not leave the tap running while washing vegetables or washing up - use a bowl
  • Get a water butt - plants prefer rainwater anyway
  • Take shorter showers
  • See how you could use less water

Chalk streams

Photograph: Yvonne Chamberlain 2018
Source: the Waterlight Project

Ruth Hawksley (Wildlife Trust BCN) says: These habitats are very rare, our local equivalent of rainforests... It's their "special water" that makes chalk streams important - that water has been slowly filtered through the chalk so that by the time it emerges at the springs that start chalk streams, it is crystal clear, low in nutrients and pollutants, and at a fairly stable temperature .... All these conditions allow plants and invertebrates to thrive that you might not find in other places. These attract larger creatures such as kingfisher, otter, and water vole to create a diverse community.

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