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River Cam and Granta: 'Stressed rivers just two inches deep in places'

A Cambridge city councillor has written to the Environment Agency (EA) to ask whether it will declare the River Cam ‘water stressed’ due to the low water levels seen in recent months.

Cllr Katie Thornburrow raised concerns after she inspected several sites along the rivers Cam and Granta and discovered in some places they were only two inches deep.

The River Granta, Abington. (19034517)
The River Granta, Abington. (19034517)

And her letter claims that in some parts of the River Granta, effluent from sewage works was not being diluted by water as river levels are so low – and she asks whether effluent levels could have reached 90 per cent.

Cllr Thornburrow said: “The perilous state of our chalk streams, in and around Cambridge, has been highlighted by many concerned individuals and organisations.”

Last week she visited three locations on the Granta along with Wendy Blythe, of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations, chair of the Cam Valley Forum Stephen Tomkins, Ruth Hawksley of the Cambs Wildlife Trust, and Rob Mungovan of the Wild Trout Trust.

There, the councillor says she witnessed that river levels had dropped as low as two inches at some points, leading to concerns for fish and wildlife. In her subsequent letter to the EA, she said: “After floods in some parts of the country and heavy rains in East Anglia, I expected to see high water levels flowing in the river. But was astonished to find a pitiful situation. At Stapleford, there was a trickle flowing over the weir.

Punting on the river Cam in Cambridge, England.. (19034468)
Punting on the river Cam in Cambridge, England.. (19034468)

“It was explained that this flow was only as a result of a flow compensation borehole at Babraham, which is operated by Environment Agency. The poor flow has resulted in duckweed smothering the river’s surface. I could not see any fish, nor any place with enough depth for fish to survive.”

She has now asked the EA how this situation has developed and whether the water abstraction by water companies is unsustainable in this part of the country and should be stopped or reduced.

A spokesperson for the EA said they were looking into Cllr Thornburrow’s concerns, adding: “Despite the recent rainfall, exceptionally dry weather over the last three winters has caused an environmental drought in Cambridgeshire. Groundwater levels are some of the lowest we have seen, with river levels exceptionally low in some places.

“We are working flat out to limit the damage and ensure that water supplies are sustainable for the future. But more needs to be done. Every drop that is wasted is water that could be sustaining our rivers, streams and lakes.”

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