By Chris Lennon, News editor
Saturday, May 12, 2012
AN UNPRECEDENTED water shortage could be on the cards next year if the region suffers a third successive dry winter.
That was the stark warning made by a Veolia Water expert at a meeting held to explore the effects of the current drought on the River Mimram.
And Rob Sage, asset specialist at Hatfield-based Veolia, faced some tough questioning from a packed audience demanding to know why the chalk river, which runs through Codicote, Welwyn and on to WGC and Tewin, was running dry in some sections.
More than 100 people crammed into the Peace Memorial Hall in Codicote on Tuesday night last week for the meeting, which had been called by the Friends of the Mimram group.
Many had to stand at the back with all available seats taken.
Mr Sage told the assembled crowd groundwater levels were low due to two consecutive dry autumns and winters – the period in which Veolia’s underground aquifers usually replenish.
He said: “There will be no recovery at all of groundwater levels this year. A lot of this April rainfall will not get down into the ground.
“If we carry on and have a third dry winter and we don’t recover from this very low position then we will have major issues.
“We may be in emergency planning by then.
“Our rivers will be at unprecedented low levels and we might not have enough water to meet even a reasonable level of demand from our customers.”
He added: “With luck it won’t happen – it hasn’t happened in over 100 years.”
Asked why Veolia waited until April 5 this year to impose a hosepipe ban and hadn’t restricted water usage last summer, after one dry winter period, Mr Sage replied that wasn’t feasible.
He said: “We were not allowed to put hosepipe bans in last year ‘just in case’. We were nowhere near our triggers. We have a drought management plan.”
The issue of water abstraction from the Mimram was a contentious one – with residents voicing their concerns that one of the main reasons the Mimram had run dry was because of the amount of water Veolia was taking out of it.
But Mr Sage said the water firm was actually abstracting far less than the 25m litres a day it was licensed to take.
He said: “We have reduced and we haven’t taken anywhere near the permitted amount because we know the problem, and until we need to do to meet demand we won’t.”
Mr Sage added if Veolia didn’t abstract water it would have to source its supply from elsewhere – which would push up bills.