Restoring Sustainable Abstraction

What is Abstraction?

Abstraction is the process of withdrawing water from a natural source. Abstraction provides the essential water needed to meet the demands of public, agricultural, and industrial water usage. Abstraction is necessary, but unfortunately a number of abstraction points draw from unsustainable sources. Notably for us, this includes chalk rivers.
It is vital that groundwater levels and river flows are maintained as they support the varied ecology of our environment. Sustaining natural groundwater levels allows rivers to be more resistant to drought and other environmental extremes. Over abstraction means that more water is being taken out of our water sources than is environmentally sustainable. Chalk rivers and their aquifers have historically been chosen as sites for abstraction points as their water is mineral rich and requires much less filtration than other sources. Over time, if abstraction is occurs without sufficient rainfall recharge the groundwater levels will fall and the ecological health of the river will suffer.

What are we doing about over abstraction?

Since 2008, the Environment Agency has made changes to over 270 abstraction licences to prevent over 30 billion litres of water per year being removed from the environment where abstraction has been designated unsustainable. By 2024, the Environment Agency hopes to reduce abstraction from these chalk rivers by 70 million litres of water per day (that’s the equivalent of 875,000 bathtubs of water a day)! Abstraction will be reduced in areas where the environment cannot cope with the amount of water being withdrawn.
Water companies also have a big role to play in restoring sustainable abstraction. They have completed many investigations over the years to understand the environmental impact of their abstraction licences and practices. Following these investigations, the Environment Agency have changed licences to achieve the goal of sustainable abstraction while still maintaining a drinking water supply. By working together, we can achieve our ambition of restoring and protecting our chalk rivers from over abstraction.

Groundwater Emergence

Groundwater emergence occurs when the level of water within the ground (known as the water table) rises. When abstraction levels are reduced less water is being removed from the groundwater, allowing levels to slowly return to their natural states. When the water table rises and reaches ground level, water starts to emerge on the surface of the land and flooding can happen. Groundwater emergence is most common in areas where the underlying bed rock is chalk, meaning that the areas surrounding chalk rivers may be particularly susceptible to groundwater emergence. Groundwater emergence is a natural process, however it can have some negative consequences. It is vital that we understand and are prepared for potential groundwater emergence in the areas surrounding our chalk rivers where abstraction is being reduced.

For advice on how you can protect your property from groundwater emergence have a look at the Environment Agency’s guidance.

Design by LTD Design Consultants and build by Garganey Consulting.