Following features about the River Ivel 14 pence expedition by canoe from Ivel Springs to Offord on BBC Look East (1st September 18:30 News) and on BBC Three Counties Radio (2nd September 08:50) a statement from Affinity Water was read out each time saying they will be reducing abstraction by 228 Million litres a year - like this was going to be a major contribution to preventing the upper part of this rare chalk river from drying out like it did in 2018-19 and has again now in 2022.
The person reading the statement on the radio even added: 'gosh, that sounds a lot!'
Unfortunately we never got a chance to reply, because that 228 million litres a year is actually not a lot at all.
Affinity water are currently abstracting about 13 million litres every day from their boreholes at Baldock and Letchworth.
That is 4,745,000,000, or 4.745 billon, litres per year.
So Affinity's much publicized 228 million litres equals a mere 4.8% of that 4.745 billon litres.
It's up to you to decide if this tiny reduction in abstraction is likely to make a difference to our river. RevIvel certainly didn't think it would, so earlier this year it commissioned it's own scientist to investigate. The resulting Lawson Report notes that to maintain a healthy chalk river, abstraction should be less than 10% of average recharge as per the CaBA chalk stream strategy.
Recharge is the amount of rainfall which lands on the river catchment every year, soaks in to the ground, descends through the chalk to the aquifer, to eventually emerge from the springs into the river. This is how all chalk rivers work, the clear, mineral-rich, constant-temperature water which emerges from chalk springs supports a unique and beautiful biodiversity in the river below, but the upper Ivel is dead because no water, not a drop, is emerging from the springs, and the river is bone dry.
The river is not dry because its been a particularly hot and dry summer in 2022; historically, the river never dried out. It's dry because Affinity Water's abstractions have gradually risen to around 50% of average recharge, putting it amongst the most heavily abstracted chalk rivers in the whole World.
The Lawson Report calculates that to meet the 10% recharge limit, abstraction must be reduced by 81%. This makes the 4.8% reduction promised by Affinity look very modest indeed.
Obviously Affinity Water can't just stop supplying the missing 4.517 billion litres per year to their customers in the Baldock and Letchworth area, but there is a simple solution, which is to back off pumping the boreholes, let the springs flow, let the river run, let the biodiversity recover, and abstract that same water further down stream.
Government may get a lot of flak for underinvestment in the water supply industry, but actually this was all thought of fifty or sixty years ago and the infrastructure to achieve it was installed in the 1970's. Water runs down the river Ivel into the Great Ouse, and 10 miles further on it is abstracted at Offord into Grafham Water reservoir, it is then easily returned to the Baldock and Letchworth area via the existing water distribution network.
Affinity Water has a big campaign going at the moment called Save Our Streams. It's perfectly within Affinity's power to save our stream; the infrastructure is in place, and the cost to reduce abstraction to 10% of recharge and rescue miles of river for people and wildlife to enjoy is just 14 pence per person per week.