The Times (£) reports that:
“The HS2 rail project is struggling to find the water supply it needs to tunnel through the Chilterns as conservationists worry that the project could harm ecologically vulnerable chalk streams.”
“HS2 Ltd, the company behind the proposed high-speed rail link, told The Times it was in talks with Affinity Water, which services the Chilterns area, to supply up to eight million litres a day for about two years.”
“The water is critical for plans to dig six miles of tunnel, which will involve dissolving the soluble chalk of the Chiltern hills into a slurry.”
“Plans under the HS2 project to tunnel through hills in the Chilterns could damage the aquifer.”
“Affinity said it had told HS2 that it was unable to meet its water requirements.”
Approaches have also been made to Thames Water, which also hasn’t agreed to supply to HS2, yet; still trying to work out whether supplying HS2 would reduce the water company’s ability to continue to supply customers and protect chalk streams.
Also from The Times report, conservationists also fear that:
“Even if water is not taken from the aquifer, conservationists fear that contamination from waste slurry, and tunnelling, could change the movement of water inside the complex aquifer system.”
The larger worry is that commercial interests will trump conservation concerns, with both consumer and infrastructure provision taking first priority. Not for the first time.
In the Southern Water area, when there is a demand for water (in a dry season) there is no slowness to extract water from aquifers no matter the knock-on impact on chalk streams and years of conservation work. Even when there have been seven dry winters (reducing aquifer ‘refill’) out of the past ten, it seems there is a reluctance to describe this as a trend; there is a never-ending process of challenging both Southern Water and the Environment Agency to take account of the potential damage to the Chalk Streams.
While the Chalk Streams have some vocal supporters, there is a sense of a losing battle when the infrastructure that is really needed, new reservoirs and a better network of water supply lines up and down and across the country, is simply not being addressed as a matter of urgency.
There are, according to Wikipedia, 210 chalk streams in the world, and 160 of them are in England. A habitat for brown trout, water voles, kingfishers and mayflies, they depend on gin-clear water filtered by chalk aquifers. The World Wildlife Fund has called them “among the most important wildlife habitats we have”.