Our services play a key role in enabling the growth of our region and we need to meet the increasing demand for water and water recycling that growth brings. We must also take account of the changing climate, be prepared for future droughts and ensure that our environment is protected.
Throughout 2017/18 we have been preparing our draft Water Resource Management Plan (WRMP), which outlines how we will maintain a sustainable balance between water supplies and demand over the next 25 years. This will need a range of different measures, including more efficient water use in homes and businesses, new sources of water for treatment and supply, and more transfers between areas with surplus resources to areas with deficits.
Our WRMP sets out an ambitious, cost-beneficial demand management strategy to ensure the reliability, sustainability and affordability of water resources over the long term. We put the plan out for consultation between March and June, asking for feedback on our approach to: growth; demand management; metering; and the scale and timing of investment needed to increase our resilience to the impacts of climate change, drought and environmental regulations.
It is likely that companies will need to make further reductions to the amount of water they abstract from rivers and groundwaters in 2025, to reduce their impact on the environment. However, the size of these reductions is not yet clear, so our WRMP looks at different scenarios to take account of the uncertainty. In the worst case, we may need a new winter storage reservoir or other, similarly strategic assets, and our plan gives details of the work we are doing to assess these options.
Alongside the draft WRMP, we have also been preparing our first Water Recycling Long-Term Plan. This will improve our understanding of what is needed to protect this vital service from the risks of climate change, severe flooding and strategic growth. The work has been well received by the Environment Agency (EA) and by local authorities. We will now be consulting on the document to make sure it meets the needs of our partners.
Our region is already the fastest growing outside of London. We have a statutory duty to provide water and water recycling services to new homes and businesses. To better meet this challenge, we have formed a new Strategic Planning team, bringing together legal and planning expertise. The team has been working closely with local planning authorities, developers, the Environment Agency and others to better understand and influence the timing and scale of growth.
Our resilience scheme to support Grafham Water Treatment Works will increase the security of water supplies to people in the west of our region. The scheme includes a new, state-of-the-art storage reservoir and pumping station adjacent to the Works. Innovative trials proved that in an emergency it would be possible to reverse the direction of flow through the water main linking Grafham Water Treatment Works to Wellingborough in Northamptonshire.
This means that if Grafham Water Treatment Works was ever out of action, the same pipe could be used to fill the new reservoir with treated water from Wing Water Treatment Works in Rutland.
The scheme has made use of two huge pumps originally installed to send extra water from Grafham to drought-hit areas in the west of the region. If necessary, they would help send water in the other direction, back towards Grafham and the new storage reservoir. A string of new pumping stations have also been built to make sure customers' water pressure is maintained if flows are reversed. New pipework and valves have been installed and electrical modifications made at existing sites to ensure the network runs smoothly, regardless of which way the water is flowing.
This innovative approach enabled a cheaper, lower carbon solution to be proposed and the final scheme came in £32 million cheaper than the initial design and with 61 per cent less embodied carbon.
The scheme will also accommodate growth. By 2036, it is estimated that more than a quarter of a million new homes will be built and more than 380,000 jobs created across Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. With a working capacity of 40 megalitres – the equivalent of 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools – the new reservoir is the largest pre-cast service reservoir in Europe. It was officially opened by The Duke of Edinburgh in May 2016, 50 years after his original royal visit to open Grafham Water Reservoir in 1966.
The scheme – reservoir, network changes and the focus on innovation, collaboration and challenge to business as usual that drove it – is the latest example of how we continue to build ever-more resilient systems to meet the challenges of population growth, the impact of climate change and the need to protect the environment. It's part of a bigger jigsaw, providing the essential infrastructure for sustainable growth and underpinning the regional economy.