South West Water set to take supplies from lakes and rivers in a bid to keep the taps running

Posted By on 16th October 2022

By Rashleigh MacFarlane

South West Water is watching closely its reservoir levels in Cornwall in preparation for a dramatic escalation of the company’s drought plan.  Without prolonger heavy rain, this seems likely to require the abstraction of more water from lakes and rivers, adding to the stress on wildlife.

SWW declared a hose-pipe ban in August but has watched helplessly as supplies have continued to dwindle.

The “Non Essential Use” hose-pipe ban could even become a “Temporary Use Ban” – rationing – in a bid to prevent reservoirs drying up completely.

Such rationing still appears unlikely, but SWW is already having to take water from lakes and rivers because of its failure to repair its vast network of underground pipes.  Hundreds of millions of litres are lost every day through leaks.

The government’s National Drought Group, however, insists that “essential supplies of water remain safe.”

SWW’s 388-page drought plan says temporary use bans should be considered as only a once-in-500-years event, and can be triggered if reservoirs fall to “Level 2” capacity.

In 1540 a year-long drought killed tens of thousands of people across Europe.  According to the government’s monthly water situation monitoring, published on Friday, the South West of England has experienced its driest April-September since 1921.

Cornwall’s two main reservoirs, Colliford on Bodmin Moor and Stithians near Falmouth, are already at “Level 3” category of concern and are close to “Level 4” – which calls for emergency action, such as standpipes.

Colliford is at 18.3% capacity and Stithians at 15.7%.  These are the lowest levels ever recorded.  Stithians is still losing more than 2.5% per week, suggesting that without intervention it could run completely dry in only six weeks.

The Tamar lakes, between Bude and Launceston, have become a vital resource for South West Water as the company struggles to prevent its reservoirs from drying up completely

The drought plan permits the abstraction and pumping of water from rivers and other resources, such as the Hawk’s Tor lake on Bodmin Moor.  SWW is already looking to take water from the Tamar Lakes and pump it across country to Colliford.

The South West is not alone in facing a drought – 11 regions in England are also causing the government concern.

SWW appears to have been taken by surprise by the continued dry weather, with rainfall well below seasonal norms.  Other drastic action includes delivering water to Cornwall by tanker or pumping supplies from Roadford reservoir in Devon.