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Volunteer group call for reservoir to protect River Cam as part of Let It Flow! report

Calls have been made for a reservoir to protect the River Cam
Calls have been made for a reservoir to protect the River Cam

A new reservoir should be created and abstraction of groundwater should be dramatically reduced to protect the River Cam, a voluntary group says.

These are among the recommendations in the Cam Valley Forum’s Let It Flow! report.

The group, which consists of a small volunteer core and an extensive network united by the concern for the River Cam and its tributaries, has outlined the steps that need to be taken in seven priority areas, with a further 12 recommendations being submitted to Water Resources East, the body currently charged with planning the future for the region’s water resources.

Chairman Stephen Tomkins told the Cambridge Independent: “Our modern society does not see itself sufficiently as part of the grand scheme of nature but only sees nature as an asset to be exploited for our present benefit. We are presently wilfully making ourselves poorer. Just listen to David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg. What they are saying must affect our own behaviour and the time for that change is now.

“If we relentlessly abstract ground water as if it were an infinite resource, we shall run out. If rivers run dry and yet there is still water in the tap for us with no obligation to value it more or be thrifty with it – we shall run out.

“This means that we should value the river, and its entitlement to be a healthy river, emanating from chalk springs, and not think that taking its water makes no difference.

“The Cam Valley Forum exists to defend and value the streams and small rivers that contribute to making the Cam. Taking its groundwater both worsens its pollution and deprives it of its diverse wildlife. I am ashamed that its water quality is classed as ‘poor’.”

He added: “Thinking positively, we can change the way we live. Our political leaders, local and national, need to grasp this reality now. We can live sustainably – making the world a better place for our grandchildren.”

The report calls for:

  • Substantial reductions in groundwater abstraction from the aquifer that feeds our chalk streams.
  • Investment in new sources of public supplies. Proposed strategic north-south transfers of water should be extended to benefit the Cam Valley too. Locally, high river flows should be captured in a new reservoir in the lower Cam Valley, once they have flowed through it in as natural a way as possible, and be redistributed as necessary.
  • Investment in water reuse and aquifer recharge schemes. Sewage treatment works need to be upgraded to deliver better treated water to be reused for public supplies and to recharge the aquifer and/or to support irrigation.
  • Investment in the harvesting of rainwater and recycling of greywater. Planners need to ensure such schemes become commonplace.
  • A step-change in attitudes to water use through metering, leakage control and demand management. Cambridge should become the number one watersaving city and the Anglian region the number one watersaving region in England.
  • Significant reductions in water pollution and investment in work to enhance habitats and natural processes. Action is also needed to reduce pollution from land, businesses and homes and to rectify the impacts of past river modifications, which have reduced connectivity between reaches and between rivers and their floodplains.
  • Improved resilience, not only for public water supplies but also for the environment.

The report recommends that a demand management plan sets out restrictions for water use by businesses and homes – suggesting a ban could be imposed from May to August on household use of sprinklers and hosepipes, including high-pressure washers used to clean patios.

The report has been welcomed by the Cambridge Green Party.

Jeremy Caddick, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, said: “The state of our rivers is a wake-up call. We are already taking too much water from the chalk aquifers around Cambridge, yet there are plans for thousands of new homes in the area in the coming years.

“We call on the local planning authorities to undertake not to approve any new developments that will increase the abstraction of water.”

Environmental campaigner Sue Wells added: “People often don’t realise that the brooks that flow into the Cam (such as Hobson’s Conduit and Cherry Hinton Brook) are chalk streams. These rare and special

habitats are vital for animals such as water voles, kingfishers, and damselflies, and the current low water levels and flow are putting wildlife under great stress.”

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