The wait is over – the spring edition of Kent Countryside Voice is with us! Features on the glory of hedgerows, possible ways to tackle the county’s water crisis and the threat posed by a planned theme park to a wildlife haven are among a cornucopia of treats for all who treasure our county’s countryside. So settle back with a brew or your favourite tipple and enjoy a great read here
The region is already severely water-stressed; the low water levels at Bewl Water are clear to see in this picture
On the day the Environment Agency has released a report warning we could be facing water shortages as soon as 2050, concerns have been raised about such provision for the planned Otterpool Park new town near Hythe.
The report, The State of the Environment: Water Resources, paints a sorry picture of unsustainable levels of water abstraction, leakage from water companies – estimated at three billion litres a day nationally – and high demand combining to harm ecology and wildlife, as well as threaten public supply.
Introducing the report, Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd said: “We need to change our attitudes to water use. It is the most fundamental thing needed to ensure a healthy environment, but we are taking too much of it and have to work together to manage this precious resource.
“Industry must innovate and change behaviours in order to reduce demand and cut down on wastage – and we all have a duty to use water more wisely at home.
“With demand on the rise, water companies must invest more in infrastructure to address leakage instead of relying on abstraction and the natural environment to make up this shortfall.”
According to the EA report, levels of abstraction are unsustainable in more than a quarter of groundwaters and one fifth of rivers, leading to harmfully reduced flows.
Climate change and population growth are expected to exacerbate the problem, with summer river flows and groundwater levels likely to fall yet further.
The government has already introduced a plan for abstraction reform that will review licences and introduce greater controls to protect resources, while its 25 Year Environment Plan, announced in January, aims to reduce individual water use – on average 140 litres per person a day – by working with industry to set a personal consumption target.
Predictably, given its population pressures and low rainfall, the South East is the region most likely to face water shortages.
With all this in mind, it is salient to question how water will be provided for the huge levels of housing growth within Kent predicted by the government’s new proposals for calculating demand.
One of the largest potential developments in the county is the planned 10,000-home Otterpool Park near Westenhanger.
Graham Horner, CPRE Kent’s local chairman, said: “Looked at objectively, the local water company is not even planning for the number of people envisaged to be in the area.
“Affinity Water is carrying out a public consultation on its draft Water Resources Management Plan, but the number of households referred to isn’t anywhere near the figure in the Folkestone & Hythe District Council Core Strategy Review.”
So how is this apparent disconnect going to be tackled?
“The current council core strategy allows for 90 litres being used per person per day for strategic developments, but the core strategy review has a relaxed figure of 110 litres, so it’s going in the wrong direction,” said Mr Horner.
“Further, the actual local figure is 127 litres being used per person per day, although nationally it’s 140 litres.”
It’s not overly encouraging reading, but the one positive is that personal water consumption in Folkestone and Hythe area is lower than it is nationally.
Mr Horner puts this down essentially to two factors.
“I suspect people in this area are aware there’s a water shortage, while the penetration of metering – which means people have to pay for what they use –in this area is above average.”
As for the future, Mr Horner believes new homes will be fitted with water-saving features such as shower aerators, but even there he sounds a cautionary note.
“You can’t police these things. People might find they’re not happy with the water pressure in their shower and retrofit different systems.
“Quite simply, we’ve got to get people to use less water. It’s about education.”
One way forward might be recycling, but it has an image problem.
“We can re-use water and waste – collect it, treat it and stick it straight back into the aquifer. But people don’t want to drink their own waste.”
Nevertheless, in the face of the EA warnings about our existing water stresses and future water availability, it is clear we need to challenge the assumption that the majority of economic and population growth will continue to be focused on the South East.
CPRE Kent is calling on the Government to make East Kent a ‘frack free zone’ because of serious risks to the water supply if drilling took place.
It believes that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) at the four potential drilling sites – Shepherdswell, Guston, Tilmanstone and Woodnesborough – could damage the aquifer which supplies 70% of the county’s water.
The gas and oil deposits are no more than 600-700m below the aquifer, the Chalk of the North Downs. Not only that, but there is a risk that geological faults in the area would be re-activated allowing gases and fracking fluids to leak into the chalk and so contaminate the water supply.
Image from BGS: copyright NERC 2014
CPRE Kent has prepared a ministerial briefing outlining the serious threat to East Kent and is calling on the Minister of State for Energy Matthew Hancock to make East Kent an exclusion area from fracking.
CPRE Kent Vice President Richard Knox-Johnston said: “Water resources in Kent are already seriously stressed – there is a danger that if fracking went ahead we could damage the aquifer that provides most of the county’s water. Plus, we fear that water supply boreholes could be damaged causing pollution which would threaten public health as well as harm environmental quality, agriculture and wetland habitats.” Continue reading →
Hard on the heels of the UKOOG report published last week, the Lords Economic Affairs Committee (here) today also calls for the UK to speed up the exploitation of its shale gas reserves, again highlighting the potential benefits to the economy and down-playing the risk of harm to the environment. Much less emphasis is being placed on the need to ensure the safety of the process and very little is being placed on the down-side of diverting attention from the need to develop a safe, cost-effective renewable energy regime which will help break us from our addiction to fossil fuels.
It’s ironic that on the very same day Lloyds of London have published a report which highlights the increasing costs to the insurance industry of more frequent severe weather events such as storms and flooding – it seems clear that increasing our reliance on fossil fuels will have economic consequences that are by no means wholly positive.
(Image from Wikipedia)
This morning’s release of the report from the UK Onshore Operators Group highlighted the huge potential benefits to the economy of pressing ahead with the exploitation of shale gas. Here in Kent we are increasingly concerned by the overly-enthusiastic emphasis on potential economic benefits which is being highlighted by groups like UKOOG. The word ‘potential’ is the focus of our concern. These benefits can not be guaranteed, and in fact, many within the industry such as Cuadrilla have acknowledged that shale gas extraction simply will not lead to lower energy prices, and the oil and gas industry can never guarantee that its exploration will find economic quantities of gas.
However, if the UK Government does press ahead with its commitment to fracking, we are opening our countryside up to a host of environmental damage as a result, as well as its guaranteed industrialisation with more HGV movements http://modafinil200mg.net along narrow lanes, large pipes to take the gas away, and development in places it simply should not be allowed.
There are particular concerns over the risk to our precious water resources in Kent, which, according to the Environmet Agency, is already seriously water-stressed. Kent’s underlying geology is characterised by a high density of faults and there is no way in which any operator or regulator could anticipate the re-activation of a geological fault, which would lead to serious risk of an escape of contaminants into underground water resources. Once triggered, there is little that can be done to control or alleviate that contamination.
We want to be certain that a rigorous, evidence-led debate has taken place and a strong regulatory and inspection environment has been put in place before the UK Government commits to shale gas exploitation, so that ‘potential’ environmental damage doesn’t become a reality.