Managing water resources

Catchment Management

At South Staffs Water we’re committed to providing a consistent supply of high quality water to all of our customers now and for future generations.

Our water supply is taken from both groundwater (boreholes) and surface water sources (rivers). The quality of this water  can be affected by activity which takes place on the land and in rivers which make up the catchment area.

A catchment is an area where water is collected by the natural landscape. In a catchment, rainfall not used by plants either infiltrates into the groundwater or as surface run off; eventually flows into surface water systems such as streams rivers, lakes and the ocean

Agriculture, forestry, industry, waste management and water abstraction all have an impact on the catchment and on the quality of the water within it.

What’s the quality of raw water like in the South Staffs region?

The quality of raw water in the South Staffs region is generally very good; however, there are some substances used in agriculture that are persistent in the environment and that pose a risk of exceeding the prescribed levels in raw water. We are working with farmers to manage these risks, with a focus on two substances which have an impact on our water supplies:

Metaldehyde:

Metaldehyde is the active ingredient in the majority of slug pellets used by farmers and gardeners.

Metaldehyde can be washed into watercourses during periods of high rainfall. In some instances we’ve detected concentration levels above the 0.1 micrograms per litre (0.1µg/l) drinking water standard for pesticides. While this is not a health based standard and it is not harmful at these concentrations, it is a legal requirement that must be met.

As there is no cost-effective treatment to remove metaldehyde at present, we’re aiming towards management of the catchment to tackle the problem at source and reduce the risk of non-compliance with the drinking water standards.

Nitrates:Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth and is regularly applied to agricultural land as nitrate in fertilisers.

Agricultural fertilisers can leach into groundwater and run-off into surface water creating water quality issues.

Over the last 30 years levels of nitrates in the raw water supply have been increasing to a point where some levels exceed the drinking water standard for nitrates. Historically our approach has been to ‘blend’ water from different sources. This involves mixing water with higher concentrations of nitrate with water which has lower concentrations to ensure all water meets the required standards. Where this is not possible we have to treat the water at special nitrate treatment plants.

What are our long term goals for managing the quality of raw water?

Treating water is not cost effective or environmentally sustainable.

In addition to chemicals which we may have to use, our treatment works require maintenance and have operating costs which increase our carbon footprint.

A sensible approach is to ensure we do all we can to take care of the environment and improve the quality of the raw water – this is known as catchment management.

We aim to rely less on ‘end of pipe’ treatment solutions and to improve the overall quality of water in the whole catchment through this approach.

 How are we going to achieve this?

Collaborate – working in partnership with landowners, farmers and regulators, such as the Environment Agency, Natural England, Drinking Water Inspectorate, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, River Trusts and other water companies to develop framework agreements and share information and resources

SPRING 2 - SPRING 2 is an Environmental Protection Scheme set up by South Staffs Water to help farmers explore catchment friendly land management. Under the scheme, farmers are able to apply for a grant of up to £10,000 per farm – towards the costs of voluntary on-farm infrastructural improvements and land management options designed to protect the environment and improve water quality. Find out more about SPRING here.

Research - Carry out research on our catchments to better understand how they operate

Take action - Actively participate in initiatives which encourage catchment friendly use of agrochemicals and enhance biodiversity

Educate - Inform people about the impact catchment management can have on improving the quality of raw water through awareness raising events and visits to our treatment works and reservoirs