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Water Scarcity Management: A Drop in the Ocean?

River Test photographed by @hampshireriverkeeper

Photography by @hampshireriverkeeper

As rivers and streams across England and Wales shrink and dry up, causing damage to fish and other wildlife, the Missing Salmon Alliance (MSA) are calling for regulators and the government to recognise the crisis and act immediately. 

Although drought occurs naturally when temperatures rise and rainfall drops, climate change and population growth have placed a massive strain on freshwater resources through exacerbating water scarcity. Water is being abstracted from rivers and the aquifers that feed them at an unsustainable rate, whilst changing rainfall patterns mean that many of our rivers will see a marked decline in flow. When water levels drop, the concentration of pollutants increases, temperatures rise and the freshwater ecosystem suffers. With the low flows and the heat, fish are suffering, in both our rivers and still waters. 

The Missing Salmon Alliance is a group of passionate conservation organisations fighting to protect a species in crisis, wild Atlantic Salmon. The MSA advocate the protection of freshwater habitats, the improvement of water quantity and quality, and the reduction of losses of salmon in our rivers, coastal waters, and the open ocean.

MSA members are incredibly concerned about the low level of water in many rivers across the UK. The MSA are calling for a longer-term, more sustainable, joined-up approach to managing our water resources with greater emphasis on building resilience within rivers and wider landscapes. 

MSA is concerned that too many water companies have been reluctant to act for fear of negative publicity, despite latest information from the Environment Agency showing that the water remaining in reservoirs is at its lowest since 1995 ranging from 70% to as low as 43% of normal capacity.

The River Test in Hampshire, a river close to Orvis’ heart, is a fine example of a water company dragging its feet in implementing longer-term mitigation measures – including reducing demand and leakages.

In 2018, water and sewerage utility Southern Water – since convicted in the criminal court of multiple breaches of its sewerage permits and fined a record £90 million – argued its case at a Basingstoke public inquiry before an inspector appointed by the Secretary of State that it needed to abstract substantially more water from the River Test, one of the world’s most famous chalk streams and fishing rivers.

Southern Water’s proposition to lift restrictions on the amount of water it takes from the River Test is being challenged by MSA member, Fish Legal, who are arguing that Southern Water have made inadequate efforts to minimise customer demand and to plan for mitigating the impact on the river’s fish stocks and ecology, something they are required to do by law.

Parts of Scotland are also experiencing prolonged dry weather with many areas now suffering from water scarcity. Water resources are now critical in the east and areas in mid and north Fife and the Borders have reached Significant Scarcity, the highest category for water scarcity. 

Stuart Singleton-White, Head of Campaigns at MSA member, the Angling Trust, said:

“We need the government to treat this as the crisis it is.  We can all see the low flow in our rivers, many of our chalk stream drying up, and our fish and other wildlife suffering. If ministers aren’t bothered about the environment they should recognise that the economic cost of seeing the taps run dry is horrendous.

“The government must declare a drought now and the water companies should stop dragging their feet. It’s also concerning that the two candidates to be our next Prime Minister seem to have nothing to say about the crisis unfolding in front of them. We need to be saving every drop of water we can as things will not get better by simply praying for rain. The Met Office are reporting it is unlikely to come anytime soon, and we could well remain in this dry period through to the autumn.”

The lack of new water resources is of huge concern with figures showing that no new reservoirs have been completed since privatisation in 1991 despite a population increase of over 10 million. In the south, where population growth is the most, the last new reservoir built was Farmoor, near Oxford, in 1976. To make matters worse, some water companies have actually sold off reservoirs.

As part of Orvis’ commitment to protecting nature, we are donating £5 from every sale of Mission Fly Lines, Tips, and Running Lines sold throughout 2022. We are also donating £50 from the sale of every Mission Double-Handed Fly Rod sold through our Stockbridge retail store, by phone, and online throughout 2022. We are proud to support the work of the Missing Salmon Alliance.

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