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Bewl drought permit FAQs

  1. What is the drought permit? 
    • When flows are high, Southern Water has always been permitted to pump water from the River Medway into the Bewl Water as part of annual October to March recharge season.

      This permit allows Southern Water to pump water from the River Medway network when the river is flowing lower than normally permitted levels - flows of 150 million litres a day rather than 200 (January) to 275 (March) as currently permitted.
  2. What will it do? 
    • It will aid us in getting the water to healthy levels of around 70 per cent full by the end of March - along with winter rain, of course.
  3. Why is this permit necessary? 
    • The winter of 2016 was very dry - rainfall was only 77 per cent of average. Although the summer might have felt wet, summer rainfall evaporates or is taken up by growing plants.

      This autumn has been incredibly dry with rainfall in October less than 40 per cent of the average for the month of only 32 mm. November too has been very dry - we had less than 50 per cent of average rainfall. Bewl is now only 44%, having recovered from an exceptional low of 32.5% in early November.

      • The rain gauges in the Medway catchment show rainfall accumulations were 66-68% of the long term average (1961-1990) between July 2016 and November 2017. The aggregated Medway catchment rainfall series similarly shows 70% of the long term average.

      • For the specific 17 month period of July to November, the accumulations up to November 2017 represent the driest on record at Goudhurst rain gauge (1956-present) and the second driest in the Medway aggregated series (1911-present) after the 1921 drought.

      • Recent rainfall in autumn 2017 has been substantially below the long term average with October and November receiving only 40% and 50% of their 1961-1990 long term average monthly totals respectively at Goudhurst rain gauge in the Medway catchment and 34% and 51% respectively in the Teise catchment.

      Bewl is a marvellous natural resource for anglers, sailors and rowers but it is also an important part of the water resources not just for Southern Water but also for South East Water.

      Although 70 per cent of the region's water supplies come from ground water sources such as bore holes, a healthy Bewl level is part of our resilient planning for the summer months. The reservoir represents 22 per cent of the water resource in the Medway area.
  4. Does this permit mean there are any restrictions on use such as a hosepipe ban? 
    • No - at the moment this precautionary permit is just about refilling Bewl. But as part of a forward planning, we have to look at the effects of a potentially prolonged dry winter.

      If that happens then, even with pumping to help refill the reservoir, we may start to put in place some temporary use bans such as using hosepipes in gardens or for car washing in parts of the region. We will keep the public updated.
  5. Why is this happening - shouldn't Southern Water be fixing leaks? 
    • We have 86 full time leak teams searching for leaks from our 13,000km network. We also arrange for free home visits to help customers detect leaks in their own homes - which cost them money as well as depleting supplies.

      Home visits will also show a range of techniques you can use to save water. In addition we have just started a new initiative for Southern Water to fix leaks between our network and your front door. In the past, leaks here were the home owner's responsibility.
  6. Will all this pumping damage the Medway environment? 
    • Southern Water is not normally allowed to do this but this measure has been used a number of times in the past, most recently in 2012. The permit applied for this time is less demanding than that granted in 2012.

      In places, it might be noticeable that the river flow is lower than usual for the time of year but the Environment Agency takes the health of the Medway into account when granting permits. Mitigations are proposed with the permit.
  7. What can I do to help? 
    • Save water, save energy, save money. Water is a precious resource, there are lots of water efficiency tips on our website here Get a home visit from Southern Water, fix any leaking taps and use a water butt to gather water for gardening.

      We're offering free water saving visits with free devices being fitted.
  8. Is this only happening in Kent? 
    • Both Kent and Sussex are water stressed areas but Kent has been exceptionally dry for two consecutive winters.
  9. Are other water companies applying for drought permits? 
    • All of the water companies in the region deal with similar issues and we co-operate closely on managing resources.
  10. How is this going to affect the fish and wildlife that lives in the rivers you’ll be draining? 
    • The reason why this pumping is done in the winter is not only to ensure that the Bewl is refilled but to minimise impact on wildlife.

      Any measures we take are agreed with the Environment Agency and are done with the natural environment in mind.
  11. Why don’t you have better ways of storing more water, if you already know some areas are more at risk of running out of water than others? 
    • Some 70 per cent of our water comes from groundwater - principally aquifers through bore holes. There are very few suitable places in the region - which is already heavily developed - to construct reservoirs.

      With an ever increasing population and climate change, Southern Water is looking for innovative ways to manage increasing demand - see our Water Futures for details. These include better ways of using treated waste water in farming and industry and potentially desalination plants.

      In the future we are hoping to use the aquifer itself for storage by pumping water down special bore holes.
  12. It's been pouring with rain - why do you need this now? 
    • Recent rains are definitely helping but we need at least average rainfall during the remainder of the winter to get Bewl back to where we need it to be. The permit provides additional refill if rainfall and river flows remain low.
  13. Does applying for this permit mean there will be restrictions on water use this summer? 
    • We are applying for this permit to top up Bewl Water in good time for the rise in demand that comes in the warmer months so we hope not. But we do still need rain and as part of our prudent resilience planning, we are thinking about what further measures may be needed.

      Everything depends on the coming weeks and months and we will keep our customers and stakeholders informed about how  the re - fill is going. Remember, reservoirs are only a small part of our water resources.
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