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Behind the scenes of the ‘Pure Clean Water’ documentary about Cambridge’s water crisis





Pure Clean Water, a film about the chalk streams crisis in greater Cambridge, has now been completed and the Cambridge production team is preparing for the premiere at the Cambridge Film Festival, which runs from October 19-26.

The film’s producer, Tony Eva, is a passionate water campaigner who established the Cambridge Climate Lecture Series and Carbon Neutral Cambridge. He is currently chair of Friends of Logan’s Meadow, the nature reserve by the banks of the River Cam near Riverside, where he is helping to reintroduce wetlands, woodland, and grassland habitats.

We caught up with Tony and asked him about the eagerly-awaited film.

Have you made a film before?

My grandfather was a keen photographer so I became familiar with camera equipment from quite a young age. It’s now more than a quarter of a century since I took a film-making course in London, during which time the technology has evolved in ways I never would have imagined. Pure Clean Water has emerged from my desire to tell the story about the wonders of our Cambridge chalk streams along with the crisis that they face. This is the first feature-length film that I’ve made.

How did the idea of making this film emerge?

It all started in November 2019 when I attended an open forum titled ‘The Cambridge Water Crisis’, convened by Cllr Katie Thornburrow. That summer had been hot and dry, and East Anglia was officially in drought. It was clear that all was not well with our local watercourses, and the presentations at the forum were a personal wake-up call to the scale of our water supply issues.

Afterwards, I was determined to find out more about Cambridge’s water supply. I became intrigued by the important role that Hobson’s Conduit played in supplying Cambridge with fresh water and followed the route to its source at Nine Wells. It quickly dawned on me that these would provide wonderful locations for a short documentary film, so I began filming on location.

What were the challenges of the film schedule?

The Covid-19 pandemic affected all of our lives and activities, and for much of 2020 film-making was on the back-burner. Then, in April 2021, I met the cinematographer Nigel Kinnings, whose work on the 2019 documentary film Waterlight about the River Mel I’d very much admired.

On the set of ‘Pure Clean Water’. Picture: Helen McGee
On the set of ‘Pure Clean Water’. Picture: Helen McGee

Ngel was keen to get involved in a project about Cambridge chalk streams and together we realised that Hobson’s Conduit could be a lens through which to look at a much broader story about Cambridge’s water.

With a more ambitious project now in mind, I set about lining up potential interviews. We wanted these to include experts in geology, hydrology, archaeology, history and ecology, as well as the views of the local water company, regulators, councillors and campaigners. Finding a date and time when Nigel, myself and the potential interviewee were all available was certainly challenging!

How many people have been involved in the production of the film please?

One great thing about documentary film-making is there’s no need for set and costume designers.

For Pure Clean Water we had a production team of three. Nigel Kinnings worked on cinematography and lighting, and Christine Lloyd-Fitt on continuity and sound. Working with such a small production team was only possible because Nigel and Christine are seasoned professionals.

During post-production Jamie Yuan worked as an editor, and Juan Riera Gomez joined us to work on the soundtrack. I think he’s produced a wonderful soundtrack which is light, atmospheric and complimentary to the imagery.

Is it true that 82m litres are being abstracted from the chalk streams around Cambridge every day?

No, it’s more than that! During our interview, Cambridge Water said that they abstract an average of 84 million litres each day, almost entirely from underground chalk aquifers. During summer months increased demand can push this up to around 105 million litres per day.

But the Cambridgeshire chalk is also having water taken out of it – abstracted – by Affinity Water Company to the south of Cambridge and by Anglian Water to the north. Altogether the amount of water being taken by water companies from the Cambridgeshire chalk averages more than 100 million litres per day – and that’s all water that would otherwise benefit our local chalk streams.

Let’s not forget that chalk streams are internationally recognised as a rare and precious ecosystem, 85 per cent of which are located in the UK. We’re very fortunate to have a number of them located on our doorstep, but is the city that hosts the David Attenborough Building taking proper care of them? And can further growth be accommodated in what is already a severely water-stressed part of the country? Our film seeks to address these questions.

We’re now at the later stages of a decades-long process. What will happen if we don’t change our ways?

A number of interviewees pointed out that there have been past warning signs with respect to water that we really should have heeded. The drought of 1976 – when Nine Wells, Hobson’s Conduit and the lake in the University Botanic Garden all dried up – is certainly a case in point. More recent, less severe droughts in 2019 and 2022 badly impacted our chalk streams because of the amount of water that is being taken from the underground aquifers.

Cambridge is at the front line of where water demands for the environment and water demands of a growing population are in conflict. When we have another drought of the magnitude of 1975-76, the River Cam will be unrecognisable.

See the trailer here.



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