£0.14 per week. That’s right, just fourteen pence per week added to water bills for every person Affinity water supplies with water in the Baldock and Letchworth area would permanently save the river Ivel.
For the second time in three years our rare and beautiful chalk river Ivel is again bone dry at Ivel Springs nature reserve and all the way to Radwell. It is not dry because of the recent hot weather or the drought; Ivel springs is supplied with mineral rich ground water from the vast reserves under the Weston Hills and probably has not dried up through natural causes since the last Ice age.
It's dry because the Environment Agency lets Affinity Water pump about 13 million litres of water every day from their boreholes at Baldock into the public water supply before that water has a chance to get into the river. Affinity Water receives in excess of £5 million per annum in sales of this water.
For a long time both organizations denied that this pumping of 13,000 tons of water per day had much, if any, effect on the river, so earlier this year, revIvel commissioned an independent study. The Lawson report was published in July. It not only exposed some discrepancies in their data and hence the conclusions they had come to, but unexpectedly proposed an almost ready to go solution.
The plan is simple: Reduce abstraction at Baldock immediately to a much more sustainable 2.4 million litres per day. This will allow the ground water to rise back to its natural level and spill out of the springs which supply the river all year round just as they always did. It might take a while to get going, perhaps 18 months, because they’ve been taking so much water for so long that the natural ground water level has been depressed by as much as 8 metres, but it will happen. The water flows 17 miles down the Ivel to Tempsford where it joins the Great Ouse, and then a further 9 miles to Offord where it is sucked out by the existing infrastructure into Grafham Water reservoir. From Grafham, clean water is returned up the existing plumbing into the Baldock and Letchworth local water network so there is no net change in public water supply availability.
All this new water in the Ivel will let it thrive for the first time in perhaps 100 years; the benefits to people, wildlife and the environment will be massive; maybe we will even see the trout which have been absent for so long.
Of course there might be a cost to all this, and Affinity provides us with the figures on page 107 of Appendix 4 to their Business Plan for 2020 - 2025. They say it costs £60 to pump one million litres from their own boreholes or £217 to buy the same thing from Anglian Water at Grafham.
This means the Lawson Plan could cost Affinity an extra £607,433 per annum to supply that same 13 million litres per day to its customers in the Baldock and Letchworth area. On page 4 of their Plan for Customers and Communities Affinity Water says its customers use an average of 152 litres of water per person per day. This means that 13 million litres supplies 85,526 people. If you divide the extra cost of saving the Ivel by that number of people, it works out at 14 pence each per week.
Saving this rare chalk river is entirely possible; what else can you buy for just 14 pence a week?