Sustainable Water – Not a ‘Megavoir’

The previously proposed Abingdon reservoir layout

13th February 2023

A Guide to responding to the current water consultations –  Water Resources South East Plan and Thames Water Resources Management Plan

Consultations on both the Water Resources South East (WRSE) Plan and Thames Water’s Management Plan (WRMP) are now running .

Together, these plans will determine Thames Water’s investment plans for water supply in the coming decades, including the proposals for the Abingdon mega-reservoir.

CPRE Oxfordshire supports the Group Against Reservoir Development (GARD).  We thoroughly recommend taking a look at their website for a more detailed analysis and critique of the Water Companies’ plans:


Water Resources South East Plan (WRSE) consultation

The WRSE plan is a regional plan combining key elements of relevant water companies’ plans, including Thames Water’s, so it’s important to respond.  The closing date is MONDAY 20th FEBRUARY.

The consultation can be found here.

Please email your views:
There is an option to complete an online survey if you prefer.

Thames Water consultation

Thames Water’s Water Resources Management Plan consultation runs until TUESDAY 21 MARCH.

The consultation can be found here.

Please email your views: and putting “Thames Water” in your email title.
Again, there is an option to complete the online survey if you prefer.

CPRE Oxfordshire suggest you respond to both these consultations by email, making the same comments. If you only have 5 minutes we suggest you use the orange title points. If you have a little longer you can expand on these points. Please tell them in your own words.

Future demand for water has been exaggerated due to inflated projections-it should be halved.

Future demand for water over the next 50 years has been forecast using four identified pressures on water demand: population growth, climate change, environmental improvement and increasing our drought resilience. From this a “ reported pathway” headline figure has been established in the WRSE plan, which is double a more realistic view.

  • The chosen population projection is the third largest of the 21 reported, and a much smaller number, such as that projected by the Office for National Statistics 2018 be used.
  • The climate change requirement uses the highest emission scenario – following the recent climate talks this is unrealistic and a median scenario should be adopted.
  • The restoration of our internationally unique chalk streams is vital and for this some reduction in groundwater extraction is needed. However, the extent is uncertain and the highest scenario has been chosen in WRSE’s preferred pathway for environmental improvement, which is likely to be too high. Urgent research and a targeted, rather than “ one size fits all”  approach is needed. The Chalk Streams First and the DEFRA-sponsored Catchment Based Strategy’ should be supported, which recommends priority for streams where abstraction exceeds 10% of recharge  (A10%R).  Such a strategy requires much lower resource requirements to regenerate the priority streams.  Pollution (sewage and agricultural) is a bigger environmental factor which also needs to be addressed.

Given accepted demand uncertainty, new sources of water should give priority to schemes which are adaptable, scalable and minimise environmental impact . New reservoirs, like the SESRO (South East Strategic Reservoir Option ie the Abingdon Reservoir), DO NOT meet this criteria.

It is acknowledged that many factors which will determine our future water need are uncertain and difficult to forecast. It is therefore vital that proposed new water sources are adaptable, scalable and have minimum environmental impact. New water sources include river transfers, new reservoirs, water recycling, and desalination. 

  • The various river basin water transfer schemes should be supported.  The Grand Union Canal transfer can provide very quickly water needed to reduce extraction along the Chilterns and thus allow the remediation of the Chiltern Chalk streams in the next few years.  Similarly, the Severn-Thames transfer scheme is scalable, adaptable and causes minimal environmental damage.   It could be operational by the early 2030s,  thus providing water quickly for improved resilience and river improvements.  Pumping across the Cotswolds has a carbon cost but in fact this goes away if the Government target of decarbonising the electrical grid by 2035 is achieved.
  • The various recycling schemes should also be supported.  These are also scalable, adaptable and have low environmental impacts.  The Teddington river abstraction (supported by the Mogdon recycling) should be implemented as soon as possible.  This could be easily expanded in the future from the current plans for 67 Ml/d to 100 Ml/d, and even further if the water temperature issues could be resolved (water heat pumps to supply district heating along the pipeline is a rapidly developing technology and should be investigated).
  • Desalination plants along the south coast should not be completely rejected.  New technologies and the decarbonisation of the electricity grid may make these more cost effective options in the future.  Again, they should be scalable and adaptable.  A full, transparent and independent study of the environmental and greenhouse gas emission consequences should be undertaken.
  • The priority given to the SESRO/Abingdon reservoir is unjustifiable.  This development would not be scalable or adaptable and has considerable environmental damages and risks.  It is obvious that the environmental damage during the construction phase would be huge, not just on the 10 square kilometre site but in the surrounding area and access roads.  Even beyond the construction phase any restoration of habitat (or even the creation of new habitat) will take decades (for example, for trees to grow and insect populations to recover). The environmental impact would be severe.  If the SESRO project is to be progressed at any time in the future, a full, transparent and independent study of the environmental and greenhouse gas emission consequences must be undertaken.

Targets are unambitious for reduction in both water consumption and leakage.

For all the scenarios in the WRSE plan over half the ‘solution’ is achieved through leakage reduction and demand management and for the ‘low’ scenario this constitutes 78%.  The plan will reduce leakage by 50% by 2050 and reduce personal water use from 144 to 115 lt per person per day (but only 123 lt per day for Thames Water)Higher ambition is required.

In terms of water use, all companies,  including Thames Water, should aim for a maximum of 110 lt per person a day, in line with Government policy.  All water companies should accelerate the installation of smart water meters and, as soon as possible, implement a progressive charging policy to penalise the very high water users. As well as the water companies, the Government also has a considerable responsibility to help with public education and  update building regulations to ensure all new buildings, and renovations, are water efficient.  

Most of the ‘new’ water resource is only needed during drought conditions.  Public awareness campaigns and social media have been shown to be remarkably successful in reducing water use at critical times.  The Water Companies and Government need to work together to both standardise and refine this messaging.

CPRE Oxfordshire responses can be downloaded here.