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Brighton Journal | 5th April 2020

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Is Brighton & Hove’s Water Under Threat?

Is Brighton & Hove’s Water Under Threat?
Hannah Midgley

You’re thirsty. You turn on a tap, the glass fills and you drink without a second thought. But did you know that living near the National Park – particularly here on the southern coast – it’s the chalk of the South Downs we have to thank?

Chalk is porous and holds water like a sponge. Between the Adur and Ouse valleys alone this aquifer enables Southern Water to pump groundwater to fill more than 15,000 Olympic swimming pools each year. A vital resource for both homes and businesses in an otherwise relatively dry part of the country. It also sustains rare and nationally important habitats such as chalk streams and wetlands.

But as with many of our natural resources this groundwater is under threat – from population pressures and as a side effect of modern farming and life styles. There is a delicate balance between meeting our own need for water against that of our wildlife even before adding the impact of pollutants.

Brighton ChaMP for Water is taking action to counter these threats and ensure our groundwater remains a sustainable resource for the future.

Fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides used in farming, parks, golf courses and gardens can all find their way into the groundwater. Recent scandals have raised the profile of air pollution from cars but they are also one of the greatest contributors to water pollution. Particles of heavy metals from brake pads and tyres, and oil and fuel leaks create a cocktail of chemicals which washes from the road and eventually into the chalk.

But all is not lost. We asked Aimee Felus, Project Manager for the new Brighton Chalk Management Partnership (ChaMP) about work to improve and protect our water.

“There’s a great deal we can do,” says Aimee. “In rural areas nitrates are our biggest concern and we want to work with farmers and land managers to develop pilot projects tackling this. For example, in looking at how nutrients are applied, how manure is dealt with, planting cover crops to reduce run off and even planting new woodland in problem areas.

“In towns and cities we need to reduce the amount of chemicals reaching the aquifer from golf courses, allotments, industrial and commercial sites and roads. We’ll be offering advice and training to support people who want to play a part in improving this vital resource hidden beneath our feet in turn benefiting our landscape and wildlife.”

ChaMP is led by South Downs National Park Authority, Southern Water and the Environment Agency, in partnership with Natural England, Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere Reserve, Brighton & Hove City Council, and the University of Brighton.

Brighton ChaMP for Water aims to protect and improve the quality of groundwater in the Brighton Chalk block, to ensure it remains a sustainable resource for public water supply. The project is a collaboration between a number of organisations, and we hope to create more partnerships with councils, landowners, community groups and businesses as the project progresses.

Many of us are concerned about air pollution caused by traffic. But it’s lesser known that highways are also one of the biggest causes of water pollution. As we drive brake pads and tyres wear down, depositing micro-plastics and heavy metals on the road. Oils and fuel leak from some cars, adding to the pollution on the road surface. When it rains this is washed down the drains, and in some areas into our groundwater via soak-aways sunk down into the chalk

Usually this pollution lays on the road unseen, but a good illustration comes with the snow.  At first pristine, white and beautiful, it quickly turns to black grey slush as all the pollutants are mixed in.

Brighton ChaMP will be creating rainscapes to demonstrate a groundwater friendly solution. These rainscapes, also known as Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) are sunken planted areas which capture run-off from rainfall, slow it down and naturally cleanse the water by the action of bacteria in the soil. As well as cleaning water, rainscapes can help protect against flooding, improve air quality and increase wildlife. Plus it’s much nicer to see greener streets than grey. In the first phase of the project they’ll be creating 3 of these rainscapes to protect our groundwater..

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