Taking less water from the Test and Itchen
The Rivers Test and Itchen in west Hampshire are among the world's finest examples of chalk streams and support a diverse ecosystem. However, the twin pressures of more extreme weather events and a growing population have put strain on these rivers – threatening the wildlife these unique habitats support.
Hampshire has always relied on rivers for drinking water. However, to protect the health of the Rivers Test and Itchen, the Environment Agency updated our licenses in March 2020.
The new licences restrict how much water we can take from the rivers when the flows drop. These changes pose a challenge, as we now have a shortfall of water in south Hampshire when the weather is dry.
Addressing the shortfall
The new limits mean finding fresh water resources. We’ve agreed with the Environment Agency that we’ll make up the shortfall by 2027. To achieve this, we’ve launched our Water for Life – Hampshire programme.
The programme will reduce the amount of water we source from the Rivers Test and Itchen by creating a modern water supply network that secures a plentiful water supply for our customers and the environment – whatever the weather.
Water for Life – Hampshire
Between now and 2030, we’re investing around £800m to improve how we source, treat and supply water across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. This investment includes:
Exploring new sources of water – including desalination* to turn salt water into drinking water and water recycling to keep treated water within our network
Building new pipelines to bring in additional supplies from neighbouring water companies
Building a new reservoir, in partnership with Portsmouth Water, at Havant Thicket
Reducing leakage (by 15% by 2025, 40% by 2040 and 50% by 2050)
Increasing water efficiency by supporting and incentivising each person to reduce their use to 100 litres a day through our Target 100 campaign
Improving environmental resilience and water quality through catchment management and river restoration
*A large desalination plant in the Solent is our preferred strategy within our Water Resources Management Plan (WRMP). Alongside this, our regulators have asked us to investigate alternatives. If our testing shows an alternative solution will solve south Hampshire’s shortfall by 2027, we can update our WRMP to reflect the new, favoured approach.
In the meantime
Until we have made up the shortfall, the Environment Agency has agreed we can apply for drought permits to allow us to continue taking water during lower flows.
To minimise environmental damage, if permits are granted we are required to introduce temporary use bans on some types of water use – for example, using hosepipes or pressure washers. This is to reduce unnecessary demand on the rivers when supply is already short.
We know customers may find bans inconvenient, but we must balance our needs with those of the environment – protecting these rivers is a task for all of us.
We increased our leak-detection activity in the area and closely monitored the river flows.
How you can save water
We promoted water-efficiency in the area to raise local residents’ awareness of the water shortage and the possibility of restrictions – including practical water-saving tips. The combined efforts of our customers and employees avoided the need for water restrictions in summer 2019.
If you live in Hampshire or the Isle of Wight, you can help protect these precious rivers by following our top tips on how to save water.