Southern Water, the largest water supplier in the South East, has applied for a drought permit, local press is reporting.
The company cites “exceptionally low rainfall” as the reason in its application to the Environment Agency, for permission to abstract water from the River Medway and the River Teise prior to 1st April 2018, in order to refill the reservoir at Bewl Water.
Following exceptionally low rainfall during winter 2016-17 and during October and November 2017, Bewl currently holds less than 43% of its maximum 31,000 million litres capacity.
But the figures don’t evidence that low rainfall is the only problem. We suggest that uncontrolled new housing, as well as a lack of investment in water infrastructure is the true cause. There are two main ways in which a reservoir can become depleted. Firstly, as Southern Water have suggested, because of a lack of rainfall. But perhaps more potent, is the excess abstraction of the reservoir to meet the fresh water demand. There has been a boom in housing development in Kent in past decades, but we have not seen the investment in water infrastructure that is required to meet that demand.
Whilst Bewl Water does not supply Manston (fresh water here comes from the chalk aquifer), it is indicative of the problems cause by unregulated housing development. Some reservoirs like Bewl Water can potentially be topped up. Thanet’s chalk aquifers can’t. They rely on the slow percolation of rainwater over long periods of time. What’s worse is that excessive groundwater extraction from aquifers can lead to seawater intrusion
4,000 additional houses is only going to make that worse.