Response from Portsmouth Water Company's CEO
Thank you once again for your e-mail of 28th October. As I promised in my initial acknowledgement to you, here is my fuller response to the important questions you raise.
We are one of only two small city-based water companies left in the UK water industry today. We believe this gives us a unique position in terms of closeness to the communities we serve, not enjoyed by larger companies and we take that responsibility very seriously. Not only does that sense of responsibility drive an excellent tailored customer service, a fact borne out by industry rankings over a long period, it extends to the environment that the communities we serve live and work in. We are happy to engage with the concerns of our customers and in this case we have been both in correspondence with and met with members of the Friends of the River Ems (FoRE) and representatives of the Environment Agency (EA) – and will continue to do so.
We abstract water from two sites in the catchment of the River Ems; Walderton and Woodmancote. Both of these sites were developed and initially operated to provide the public water supply. In 2013, studies undertaken on our behalf concluded that whilst the River Ems was naturally ephemeral (naturally stops flowing in dry weather conditions) our abstractions were having an exacerbating influence on this natural process. As a result of this report and after consultation with the EA, in 2017 we voluntarily reduced our license at Walderton and permanently changed our use for Woodmancote. Whilst we still use Walderton to supply drinking water, Woodmancote is now only turned on in order to pump a compensation flow of underground water down the watercourse when river flow conditions require.
As well as these adjustments to our operations in the Ems catchment, in 2015/16 we also worked with the Arun and Western Streams Catchment Partnership and the Environment Agency to deliver a number of restoration projects along the course of the upper Ems, with a view to mitigating some of the issues identified by our report. With our partners, we delivered projects that mitigated identified issues such as those listed below:
* multiple or braided channels which were diverting flows
* in-channel structures which obstructed or held back water in the river
* removal of obstacles which restricted access for fish or were drowning out good quality habitat
With regard to our activity in the catchment this year, despite a wet winter, this summer was dry and at times very hot. As a result of this weather, combined with the effects of the Covid lock-down, we experienced a number of record breaking periods of water demand and we used the Walderton abstraction throughout the period. As it naturally does in prolonged dry weather, the upper stretches of the river stopped flowing and as a result we were required to operate our augmentation flow at Woodmancote. This we did starting on the 24th August, as soon as flow triggers agreed with EA were passed. Flow into the river was maintained throughout September until the 23rd when we had a technical fault with the pump. Unfortunately this was not identified for 5 days and for that period no extra water was being put in the river. When we became aware of the issue we notified the EA and returned the pump to service, putting a greater flow of water into the river than our license strictly requires. We have publically acknowledged and apologised for this mistake and have a revised process in place to prevent its recurrence.
Going forward, we are keen to explore options to minimise the impact of our operations on the environment in the Ems catchment. In the short term, we have a legal obligation to supply water to our customers and so cannot make further adjustment to our license unless we have an alternative supply of water already in place. Having said that, if we were able to decrease the demand for water in the catchment that Walderton serves we could reduce the local abstraction by the same amount. We would welcome working with FoRE to understand how we might work together to promote water efficiency locally for the benefit of the Ems.
In the longer term, we formally review our water provision every 5 years through the Water Resource Management Plan (WRMP) process. This process is scrutinised by the EA, on behalf of the Secretary of State and then negotiated with Ofwat to secure funding to deliver it. In our last WRMP we successfully made the case for our new winter storage reservoir at Havant Thicket, which is currently the subject of an application for planning permission. This project utilises surplus spring water available during the winter months at Havant and Bedhampton to facilitate a bulk supply to our neighbours, Southern Water, in turn allowing them to reduce abstraction from the Test and Itchen chalk streams in Hampshire. We are currently in the early stages of our next review, for which there are some significant mandated changes that will potentially redically change the way we supply water in the future, including; the need for a Southeast-wide regional water resilience plan, increased environmental protections (incl to chalk streams such as alternatives for the River Ems) and the need to plan for resilience to a 1:500 year (0.002%) dry weather event.
As I mentioned in my previous e-mail, we would very much like to meet with you to talk you through some fairly radical solutions we are introducing to this review process and how these might impact on your constituents in the future. If you are amenable to this, my secretary will be in touch with your office to make suitable arrangements.
With kind regards,
CEO – Portsmouth Water