Impact of water abstraction on River Ems discussed

Chichester’s MP has met with stakeholders to discuss the impact of water abstraction of the River Ems.

Community group Friends of the River Ems (FoTE) was formed last year by people who love the river, live next to it and are concerned about its condition.

The Ems is one of only 200 chalk streams in the world and offers a unique environment for nature and is also a key wildlife corridor connecting the South Downs National Park and Chichester Harbour.

But the group describes how the river and its associated streams have long been suffering from a lack of water at critical times of the year, which means fish and other wildlife can die and the health of the river system can be damaged.

Chichester MP Gillian Keegan visited the River Ems earlier this month to hear more about the impact of water abstraction

Large amounts of water are taken by Portsmouth Water from the underground sources of the Ems and the group believes this is having a serious impact on river flows.

Earlier this month, Chichester MP Gillian Keegan met with members of FoTE as well as Bob Taylor, chief executive officer at Portsmouth Water, to discuss abstraction of the river.

She was made aware of the community’s concerns last year by county councillor Mike Magill (Bourne) and district councillor Roy Briscoe (Westbourne).

Since then she has been working closely with the group and the councillors to press for a reduction in the current rate.

So far this has involved working with both Portsmouth Water and the Environment Agency. As restrictions have now lifted, Mrs Keegan was able to meet with the community in person and tour key sites along the river to better understand the ecological impacts of abstraction on the area’s unique habitat.

Given the clear environmental importance, Mrs Keegan has written to the chair of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) to ask if they will consider giving the river SSSI status (Site of Special Scientific Interest). She has also raised the issue with Ian Philips, chair of the national park authority, as the welfare of the river directly impacts the South Downs.

She also raised the situation with the water regulator, Ofwat, at a recent meeting, where she asked if the proposed Havant Thicket Reservoir, being built by Portsmouth Water could be a long term solution to the problem.

In the shorter term, however, work has been carried out by Portsmouth Water, who have agreed to look into the proposal further.

This includes the repurposing of one of their two boreholes at the site to top up the river’s flows in the summer. The water company is also looking into other measures such as increasing discharge points, which could have a positive impact on the river flows.

After the visit, Mrs Keegan said, “It was brilliant to finally get out to the River Ems and see first hand how the change in river flow can affect the natural environment. I am hopeful that the joint meeting will bear results and I will continue working to reduce the impacts of water extraction. I have will be discussing the current licencing regime with the Environment Agency at my forthcoming meeting with their Area Director, and continue to push for greater protections along the River Ems.”

Mr Briscoe added: “I am hugely grateful for Gillian’s continued commitment to protecting the River Ems. As a community, we are working on many fronts to tackle the over-abstraction of the River Ems, and I will continue to support the FoTE in their efforts.”

Mr Taylor added: “As a community focussed local water company, Portsmouth Water’s normal approach is to engage fully with local stakeholders and the communities we serve.

“As far as the River Ems is concerned, although we already assist the natural flows in the river by pumping water directly into the river during the summer months, we are listening very carefully to the concerns expressed by Gillian and the Friends of the Ems group and are more than willing to undertake further work in order to identify improvements.

“We are also working closely with the Environment Agency on these matters. We are about to commence another local study of the river, assisted by the Friends of the Ems and will use the new data we obtain to focus in on a solution. By working together in this way we are confident a solution can be found.”

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