Final version of Hampshire Water Strategy completed

The final version of the Hampshire Water Strategy was launched on March 21. Covering the county of Hampshire in south-east England, the strategy is the first of its kind in the UK having been put together by a range ten organizations including local authorities, a water company, the Environment Agency and NGOs.

Apr 1st, 2003

April 1, 2003 -- The final version of the Hampshire Water Strategy was launched on March 21. Covering the county of Hampshire in south-east England, the strategy is the first of its kind in the UK having been put together by a range ten organizations including local authorities, a water company, the Environment Agency and NGOs.

The partnership intends to keep up the momentum by holding the first Hampshire Water Festival in the city of Winchester on August 16.

Hampshire is blessed with a high quality freshwater environment, which gains much of its distinctiveness from the wide expanse of exposed chalk aquifer forming the Hampshire Downs. Hampshire has more riverine and wetland SSSIs than any other county in England, and plays host to 317 water meadows and approximately 200 standing water mills.

A multi-agency partnership, which is the first of its type in the UK and perhaps even Europe, was put in place two years ago to ensure the long-term future of Hampshire's remarkable rivers, wetlands and aquifers. The partnership includes representatives of all the major stakeholders involved in water management in Hampshire from across the private, public and voluntary sectors. Publication of the Hampshire Water Strategy (HWS), which follows a widely distributed consultation draft last year, represents a key milestone for the partnership.

The main part of the HWS document explains the major issues and problems involved in water management in Hampshire, and then outlines the strategies and initiatives already underway or planned to address these issues. The Action Plan, inserted as an annex inside the back cover of this document, attempts to bring together existing good work with a series of new actions.

The Issues

The HWS attempts to address all the key issues facing the county's freshwater environment, and these have been summarized under four key headings in the document.

Pollution

Everyday use of water leads to its pollution, and its subsequent return to the environment has a direct impact on water-related species and habitats. Whilst legal controls have been relatively successful at reducing point source pollution, i.e. end of pipe discharges, diffuse pollution, which is mainly caused by contaminated runoff from roads, fields and urban areas, is still a major problem across much of Hampshire.

Increasing Demand

Demand for water in Hampshire continues to increase due to a combination of rising population (forecast to increase by 11% from 2001 to 2021), decreasing average household size, and changing lifestyles. As a result, the 160 liters of water currently used for domestic purposes per person each day in Hampshire is forecast to increase to 178-228 liters by 2025. Abstraction demands for agriculture and new and existing development place pressure on the county's rivers and wetlands which support a wide range of wildlife.

Flooding

Although there are no large rivers running through Hampshire, both surface water and groundwater floods have caused substantial damage in the county in the past. In the winter of 2000/01, over 100 villages were flooded when Hampshire experienced the worst groundwater flooding in living memory. Much of Hampshire, particularly in the north-west of the county, suffered again during the 2002/03 winter. Agriculture and development can both contribute to and suffer from flooding, and uncontrolled flooding in the wrong places threatens wildlife as well as settlements.

Climate Change

Although the exact effects are uncertain, the scientific consensus is that climate change will be earlier and sharper than we thought and some of that change is already unavoidable. These changes will have a number of impacts on Hampshire's water environment to which we will need to adapt. The most recent UK Climate Impacts Programme's scenarios state that by 2080, the UK could be up to 3.5°C warmer; winters up to 30% wetter; summers up to 50% drier; and sea levels will rise in the south-east by up to 6mm a year. There will also be an increased likelihood of extreme events such as storms and droughts.

Whilst many of these issues are not new, most are increasing in significance. Many organizations have therefore been developing a range of responses over recent years, and these are summarized in the HWS under six headings. The same headings are then used in the Action Plan, together with one covering more general actions. Examples of existing responses and new actions under each section are outlined below.

General

To achieve the Strategy's aim and objectives, work needs to continue to take place to develop partnerships and raise awareness of the issues. Two key actions are to hold Hampshire's first water festival in 2003 which will engage thousands of residents, and to appoint a series of voluntary water champions throughout the county who will promote the objectives of the HWS in their locality.

Agriculture

There are a range of initiatives that aim to address water-related impacts of agriculture, but most are voluntary and the main obstacles to implementation include the recession in the agricultural sector and pressure from large supermarket chains. HWS actions aim to improve the success of existing strategies by working with farmers, influencing DEFRA, liaising with large food retailers and investigating alternative forms of water storage.

Biodiversity

Much is already being done by a large range of organizations, under the umbrella of the Hampshire Biodiversity Partnership, to conserve and enhance Hampshire's water-related habitats and species. The HWS actions concentrate on maintaining and enhancing wetlands, and hence by default rivers, via action on the ground, policy development, and information collection.

Demand Management/Water Conservation

Strategies are already in place at various levels to mitigate increasing demand and improve efficiency of delivery and use, such as consumer education initiatives, water company planning and Environment Agency abstraction management strategies. The HWS Action Plan aims to build on the existing good work and commits stakeholders to a range of targets which have the overall aims of ensuring that existing water resources are used more efficiently and that future demands are met by sustainable abstraction.

Development Planning

There is increasing emphasis in Hampshire on collaboration between planning authorities, water companies, the Environment Agency and other stakeholders to ensure adequate consideration of water issues when planning for new development. HWS actions include ensuring appropriate water policies are included in all development plans, and taking unilateral steps to ensure that water companies are made statutory consultees for development plans and proposals in Hampshire.

Sustainable Drainage

Sustainable drainage systems, of which there are only a few existing examples in Hampshire, help to reduce pollution, recharge groundwater, and reduce the possibility of flooding. Despite concerns over their long-term maintenance, sustainable drainage systems have the potential to be used far more widely in parts of Hampshire. HWS actions aim to both influence national policy on sustainable drainage and to encourage their increased use within Hampshire.

Land and River Management

Hampshire contains many examples of watercourses which are entirely man-made and need continued maintenance. The HWS actions include measures on river restoration, agri-environmental schemes, and improving recreational access to water bodies.

Conclusion

A key stage of the Water in Hampshire project has been reached with the publication of this Hampshire Water Strategy. All the key stakeholders have come together in a unique partnership to establish a framework for addressing the issues facing Hampshire's rivers, wetlands and aquifers. Now the hard work begins, as the Action Plan moves from words to implementation.

At its core, this involves developing partnerships at all levels from local through to international, and from continuing the steering group through to engaging everyone who lives and works in Hampshire. As a result, we will all hopefully begin to use water more responsibly in our businesses, in our schools and in our homes, with Hampshire's remarkable water environment enduring long into the future.

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