As I drove towards the Kent Events Centre on the 26th of last month, it seemed like a particularly bad day to talk about water sustainability in the South East! The rain lashing down (as it has for what seems like months now) made talk of drought in Kent appear laughable. But as the day progressed, listening to the various presentations made me realise that actually, water sustainability needs to be on all of our minds throughout the year, not just when we have a drought. As the press officer at CPRE Protect Kent, I’m not technically versed in watery issues within the county; however our Campaigns Manager Andrew Ogden, is very much a specialist in the field. Earlier in the year, when the county was facing severe water shortages, we decided that as a leading conservation and environmental charity, CPRE Protect Kent should bring the key players in the water industry together to kick off some real changes in water resource planning. Our aim was to achieve more synergy between these organisations and create a more sustainable water framework for Kent.
The conference was extremely well attended by a variety of planning consultants, councillors, local authority officers, environmentalists and even the Chairman of Kent County Council, Richard King! We heard from some truly excellent and extremely knowledgeable speakers on a variety of issues; from the supply side through Southern Water (who also sponsored the conference), to those who use water in industry such as the brewer Shepard Neame. We also had a fascinating insight from the Environment Agency who are on the front line managing the critical water situations that both our county and the whole country face at times. Unfortunately, whilst we were supposed to be hearing from the Minister responsible for water in the UK, Richard Benyon MP, due to the extreme weather we have recently had he was required to be in the South West. However, we were lucky enough to be treated to one of his colleagues at DEFRA who gave an excellent talk and then answered questions from the floor.
We were treated to a sumptuous buffet lunch, although I barely had time to eat anything as we ran a series of roundtable discussions on different watery issues. I think that I had one of the more ‘impossible’ questions on my table, which was seeking to address the further reaching global issues of water shortages, but my group gave a lively and spirited effort at giving a solid answer to this problem!
If there were one over-riding lesson that I personally took from the day, it is that even when it is raining and pouring outside, we still need to keep one eye on water sustainability in Kent. Whilst we all tend to think that water is plentiful when experiencing this kind of weather, it only takes a few dry months to create a serious problem with our water supply. We are an incredibly water stressed county and now is the time for us to really get a solid plan to ensure that Kent can become water efficient and ensure that it isn’t wasted and we can move into the future a more sustainable county. Hopefully yesterday has got participants thinking and will be the catalyst required to ensure real change for the future. However, whilst the various agencies and others were all there, a lot of the real change needs to come from you, the public. So, I would like to ask you to think “what am I going to do today to make sure I don’t waste water unnecessarily”! It’s only when we all begin to ask ourselves this question that water sustainability will become less of a problem, although whilst we have a growing population, all competing for the same resources, it’s unlikely to ever go away…