Protecting Our Rivers

Protecting river water quality in the South East is critical to us – in Hampshire, almost three quarters of the water we drink is taken from rivers especially the precious chalk Test & Itchen. 

In Kent a major task is managing the Bewl and Medway river systems to keep southern England’s largest reservoir at Bewl topped up in winter to release back in to the rivers over the summer. 

River water quality in the South East can be influenced by a variety of factors. We play one key role – every day we treat 739 million litres of wastewater at our 365 treatment works. After rigorous screening filtering and treating, this is released into the sea or rivers. 

Protecting and improving the health of our rivers and other groundwater is a major area for investment in the £4 billion plan we have for the next five years. We aim to spend £800 million on environmental improvements between 2020 and 2025. 

As climate change impact grows, it’s predicted river flows in the summer will be lower so it ‘s important for us all to ensure river water quality supports fish and the other creatures that live in our rivers. 

“With the population in the region continuing to grow the pressure on our services will also grow so to deliver a resilient water future we must ensure everything that goes into rivers is of the highest quality,” said Paul Linwood, wastewater strategy manager at Southern Water. 

In addition to our releases other flows that can enter the rivers include urban and transport run off (including highway and road run off) and from agricultural land. Liquid leaching from landfills is another concern. 

The Environment Agency states that around 65% of the river basin district is used for farming, including livestock, arable and horticultural businesses. 

Southern Waters Catchment Management specialists work closely in partnership with the farming community to explore ways we can work together to maintain and enhance river quality. 

Although our rivers have never been cleaner than they are today, maintaining the tight river quality standards required is not possible for one party to deliver on their own so constructive partnership working is vital if we are to continue to improve the health of our rivers. 

Notes to Editors: 

  • Southern Water works closely with the Environment Agency and is delivering their National Environment Programme (NEP) investment schemes. These wastewater improvement schemes are designed to comply with the standards the Agency has set to protect the environment. The majority of these investment schemes are required to meet the standards set out in the Water Framework Directive especially for phosphorus reduction. The total amount Southern Water has invested in delivering these NEP  schemes during this current Asset Management Plan (AMP) period is £130m. 

  • Southern Water iscurrently agreeing the scope of the next Asset Management Plan period that will start in 2020 and finish in 2025. It has already been agreed by the end of 2021 that Southern Water will have delivered 17 more phosphorus reduction schemes across the region. Some of these schemes are designed to improve river water quality in the Pevensey Levels. 

  • In addition  to meeting current river quality standards, Southern Water is an active participant in national research programmes into future river water quality standards including the Chemical Investigation Programme. During this current AMP period, Southern Waters treatment works were sampled and these samples were analysed for a wide variety of chemicals including metals and pharmaceuticals. These data were shared nationally with the Environment Agency and will be used to decide whether the concentration of some chemicals released to our rivers need to be reduced. As part of this programme Southern Water also carried out a catchment based investigation into the water quality of the upper Arun. 



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