Clean, healthy drinking water delivered to our homes is something we all take for granted in today’s society. This is thanks to the hundreds of water treatment works which purify water before it is pumped into our homes and workplaces.
Here’s a history fact for you – the first municipal water treatment plant was built in Scotland in 1804 by engineer Robert Thom using sand filtration. That plant provided water to the people of Paisley. But more than 200 years later with a society and environment that has changed enormously, can we still rely on treatment works alone to ensure our water is clean?
I don’t think so, and that’s why I want us to go back to basics and look at different solutions. One of those is a catchment management approach – put simply, catchment management means reducing the pollutants that enter our waters, rather than simply relying on treatment to take them out.
If I took my wellies off at the door after I walked the dog, then I wouldn’t have to spend so long hoovering the carpet later. Or put even simpler, don’t make a mess, and you won’t need to clean it up.
So I’m really proud to be launching a new Anglian Water initiative today – the Slug it Out campaign. Metaldehyde is a chemical used by farmers to tackle one of the most devastating crop pests, slugs. It’s great at ensuring our region’s farmers can put food on the nation’s tables, but once it finds its way into our reservoirs it is extremely hard to remove.
Although it is harmless to humans, the EU has set a maximum level which we need to meet. That level is just one part per billion – the same as one drop in an Olympic sized swimming pool – and currently we are seeing this exceeded far too regularly across our region.
So instead of throwing money at expensive technology – costs our that customers cannot afford – we’ll be reaching for our wellies and heading out to talk to our region’s farmers. Our new team of advisors will be talking to farmers about what they can do to reduce metaldehyde use in the Eastern region. Alternative chemicals are available and there are methods which can be used to stop pesticides finding their way into rivers.
A key part of this is a trial project we are carrying out around six of our reservoirs. We’re offering farmers a financial incentive to swap from metaldehyde to a less soluble chemical which won’t wash into watercourses when it rains. For a farmer, changing the way they work carries a business risk and we want to share that risk to enable change to happen.
I hope we can show through this trial that the alternatives to slug control are effective, and that by working in partnership with farmers we can ensure we meet our targets without increasing customers’ bills or seeing chemicals important to agriculture banned.
It’s a very different approach to the one we are used to, and I think seeing it unfold is going to be really exciting. We already have coastal Catchment Advisors who spend their time talking to businesses and other organisations along our region’s coastline to reduce sources of pollution, and we are also part of CamEO (Cam and Ely Ouse Catchment Partnership) which is working with others to protect rivers in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.
I’m extremely proud that 200 years after Robert Thom’s remarkable achievement, we are continuing to move with the times and think about the challenge of providing clean water in innovative and exciting ways.