How much more can the River Adur take?

Experts are warning that the River Adur could be overwhelmed by water which is being piped-in to supply thousands of new homes in Mid Sussex.

The river is struggling to cope far beyond its natural capacity, swamped by billions of tonnes of waste water which has been transported into the area from other rivers.

“Each house built needs water and all this imported water comes from the River Arun or the River Ouse so the water is not historic drainage,” says Henfield flood defence expert, Frank Preston. “In fact the River Adur acts as a flood relief scheme for the above rivers in heavy rain falls.”

River Adur catchment area.
River Adur catchment area.

Thousands of homes in the River Adur Catchment receive their domestic water supply from South-East Water. This includes homes in Burgess Hill, Hurstpierpoint, Cuckfield, Bolney, Poynings, Fulking and many other local villages.

In 2011 Ardingly Reservoir, which is fed by the River Ouse, nearly ran dry.

South-East Water provides drinking water to 2.1 million customers across the South-East. In Sussex the company sources most of its supply from outside the Adur catchment area, extracting water from underground aquifers, bore holes and two reservoirs – Arlington and Ardingly. In 2011 Ardingly Reservoir, which is fed by the River Ouse, nearly ran dry. At the time Paul de Zylva, Friends of the earth’s nature campaigner called for better management of our water supplies:

“We can’t keep lurching between floods, droughts and hosepipe bans. A national water strategy is long overdue,” he told the Guardian. “Fast action is needed to cut water waste, tackle floods and prevent our rivers and wildlife being sucked dry.”

Properties and businesses in Shoreham were badly affected by floods after the River Adur burst its banks.

Settlements around the River Adur have a long history of flooding – historic photographs show the village of Bramber underwater as long ago as 1904. In 2013 homes and businesses in Shoreham suffered severe flooding when the Adur burst its banks at high tide, and according to Fire and Rescue records homes in the Wineham and Henfield area are flooded on an annual basis. Mr Preston says the river just can’t cope:

“The main river drains out at Shoreham which is a tidal river up to Henfield,” he says. “Within ten miles there are fourteen sewage treatment works – the main one being at Goddards Green. All these sewage works add to flooding and the tides are gaining every year – fifty years ago the highest tide at Shoreham was 17 feet and now it is 22 feet.”

Henfield flooding, February 2014
Henfield flooding, February 2014.

Drainage expert, John Donaldson who has 35 years’ experience working for Southern Water Authority, The National Rivers Authority and the Environment Agency agrees:

“The numerous field drains, drainage ditches and impact of receiving surface waters in the upland catchment due to development all results in the headwaters of the upper catchment impacting in a wide area and the flood plain is unable to store all the flood water,” his says.

Last year the government established a National Flood Resilience Review to assess how the country could be protected from future floods.

Announcing the Review’s terms of reference this month, Chairman, Oliver Letwin said:

“This Government is strengthening our country’s flood defences, including spending £2.3bn over the next six years. This new review will make sure communities are as protected as they can be from the kind of extreme weather we saw last December.”

This is small comfort to the inhabitants of the Adur catchment where ‘extreme development’ is as great a flood risk as ‘extreme weather’.

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