Environment Agency ‘should have shouted earlier on River Cam’

Environment Agency should have shouted earlier on River Cam. Picture: Archant/ Phoebe Taplin

Environment Agency should have shouted earlier on River Cam. Picture: Archant/ Phoebe Taplin - Credit: Archant

An Environment Agency official has said the organisation “should have shouted earlier” as experts met to address a “water crisis” in Cambridgeshire’s rivers.

A "water crisis forum" was held today (November 5) to discuss problems of over-abstraction and reduced river flow, with councillors, experts and even school children attending to take part in the discussion.

Water resources planner at the Environment Agency, Andrew Chapman, said the Cam is "suffering".

He said: "The Environment Agency has recognised that the Cam is under environmental pressure due to abstraction. For a number of years now we have published strategies to highlight that and to try and publicise the state of the river and the environmental pressure that it faces due to abstraction.

"At the moment, largely down to the lack of winter rainfall over the last 12-18 months, coupled with the underlying effect of abstraction, the river Cam is suffering in terms of the ecological scores that we monitor.

"I think perhaps the silver lining is that the recent rainfall has improved some of the flows locally, and if it continues we will see the river bounce back. But certainly over the summer and into the autumn of 2019 it has been suffering worse than it has in previous years".

But his colleague, Environment Agency officer Rob Bakewell, said: "Should we have shouted louder? Yes. Should we have shouted earlier? Yes".

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The councillor who called the forum, Labour's Katie Thornburrow, said: "We have got to conserve as much as we can, we need to sort out leaks, we need to build as efficiently as possible, we need to use less, we need to really appreciate the water and biology and ecology we have got and preserve what we've got. My worry is if this continues next year the River Cam is going to be dead.

"It will be absolutely terrible; it will be an ecological disaster."

She added: "I think one of the main things is the communications about how bad the situation is regarding the water in our headwaters of the River Cam - the chalk streams - that message should have been out earlier."