Child leaping across stepping stones, River Chess
Letter to candidates and councillors

Save our Streams

You will probably have already heard that our local chalk streams in the Chilterns, such as the River Chess, River Misbourne, River Gade etc are suffering from low flows. This is particularly noticeable in their upper reaches where many, including our own River Chess, even after the relatively wet period we have had in October and November 2019, are still totally devoid of their natural groundwater fed flows.

Why should this be? There are two main reasons.

1) The Government wants our local authorities to keep building more houses which have to be supplied with water and in the Chilterns nearly all our water supply comes from our precious groundwater resource deep in our chalk geology. Quite simply, the more water that is taken out of the aquifer the lower the groundwater level gets and that inevitably means that our springs that feed the chalk streams cannot flow. Our daily use of water has also grown substantially over the years as we have treated it as a product that comes out of a tap without considering where it comes from and what the impact of unrestricted use is on our environment.
2) There is no doubt also many climate experts agree that our weather patterns are changing and we now appear to get much longer drier periods, often through the winter period, October to March, which is normally the really critical time for re-charging the aquifer in order to keep flows in the river going through the summer months.
On average, we in the Chilterns area use around a staggering 180 litres of water per person per day. It is the highest of any area in the country. However, most water supply companies in the country do not source their water from the ground. They are of course vulnerable to lack of rainfall, but just one heavy rainfall event can go a long way to replenish almost empty reservoirs, whereas one heavy rainfall event in the Chilterns will barely register any change to our groundwater levels.
Are you concerned about our local chalk streams? Are you on a water meter and able to measure what you use? If not then you can ask your water supply company to install a meter which will accurately measure how much you use each billing period, normally six months. But even if you are not prepared to have a meter fitted you can still reduce the amount of water you use if you want to help save our streams.

Why should you even want to save our chalk streams?

If you care about any aspect of our environment then our chalk streams should be right at the top of the environmental features which we should be giving the greatest level of protection. Even when the river is dry there are still a number of invertebrates within the river bed that can survive for a limited length of time, but most of the top target species either move further downstream if they can or, in many cases, just die in the dried up riverbed and riverbanks. It can then take years to restore the river environment, but as is often the case another dry period intervenes and compounds the already critical river systems.
So, in order to help you to cut down on your own water usage we have produced some measures that can make a very significant difference to the aquifer and our rivers. If you are concerned about the environment, the following ideas will kick-start your water saving and with your meter readings dropping dramatically you will be able to see just how successful your household can become when measured against the high local average. If you do not yet have a meter installed you are entitled to have one and your water supply company will fit one for you.
These guidelines may come as a shock to many as it appears we are going back in time, but once you put all of these measures, or even some of them into practice, you will soon notice a big change in your meter readings.

The bathroom

Keep some containers in the bathroom so that if you need to run off cold water to allow it to warm up for a shower, then it can be collected and used for toilet flushing, rather than letting it just run straight down the plug hole..
Showers can use less water that having a bath, but only if you don’t have it flowing at high pressure for the whole time you are showering. So put the bath plug in if you shower is over the bath, keep the water pressure low, turn the shower off while you are soaping, turn shower back on at low pressure to rinse off. Dry off then collect the water in the bath for toilet flushing. Try measuring the difference by doing what you do normally against this new environmental approach and see how much you can save each shower. Providing you collect the water from the bath/shower unit then there is not net use of water. However, the shorter time you are running the hot water the more you are lowering your carbon footprint.
If any of your household still have a bath, then using the minimum amount saves on your carbon footprint but all of the water can be collected and reused for toilet flushing.
When face, hand washing and teeth brushing keep the water pressure low from tap and complete the activity as quickly as possible.
Water butts outside can also be used for filling containers to bring in rain water inside for toilet flushing.

The kitchen

We appreciate that there are a number of different water heating systems but if you have a hot water storage tank or a condensing boiler that is some way from the kitchen sink you will be able to collect the cold water for re-use until the hot water gets to the kitchen sink, rather than just allowing it to run straight down the plug hole down into the drainage system. Every time you use the cold water tap in the kitchen, keep the pressure low and use as little as possible to meet your requirements.
You may have a dishwasher, so check to see how much water it uses for each wash cycle. Always fill the dishwasher up to maximum capacity to ensure your overall water usage is kept as low as possible. If however you still wash-up using traditional methods, then wait until you have a good number of used plates, dishes, pots and cutlery and use the minimum amount of hot water each time, saving any cold water that comes out of the hot tap initially for re-use.
When boiling the kettle for a cuppa or using water to cook potatoes and other vegetables ensure that you always heat up the minimum amount of water for your use ie just enough to cover the vegetables. Once the vegetables are cooked and removed from the pan, and the hot water has cooled it can be collected in a bucket outside the kitchen door and used to water the plants in the garden, particularly effective through the Spring, Summer and Autumn.

The garden

Collect as much rainwater from sheds, greenhouse, and roofs in butts, tanks, tubs and trays so that you do not have to water any plants with tap water. Rainwater can also be brought into the house for watering indoor pot plants. Choose garden plants that can survive hot dry periods in your garden design and you will reduce the need for summer watering substantially, but don’t forget that some shrubs and trees will benefit from a bucket of water even in the winter time when we are experiencing long dry periods.
Instead of creating a ‘bowling green’ lawn, try allowing it to grow much longer between cuts and just see how many lovely wildflowers you get within just a few weeks. Once you are hooked on the wildflowers, then it is just a short step to creating your own wild flower meadow which will attract our natural pollinators, such as bumble bees and hoverflies, that have been having such a difficult time over recent years with fewer areas available for them to collect pollen and nectar to sustain their colonies.
Do not use a hose to water plants and you will soon make a big difference to your water usage.

Car washing

Keeping windscreens, windows, headlights and brakelights clean is an essential safety requirement, however, providing your car is protected by polishing, it is not essential to wash it on a weekly basis. Do not ever use a hose to wash your car as the quantity of water used, especially if your family has 3 or 4 cars can be very substantial. A reasonably clean car can be achieved with a couple of buckets of water. If you have to use a car wash, try to find one where they collect and re-cycle the water, or they still do car washing by hand.

Cleaning paving stones and pathways

If you are concerned about the build-up of debris on your paths and drives, do not be tempted to use a high pressure hose to clean the areas when it may easily be removed by brushing.


Although your initial re-action may be ‘no way I am I doing any of that’, if you are concerned about our local environment, give it a try and I have no doubt the results you get will spur you on to even more impressive water savings. We in the chilterns have to spread this message to substantially reduce our water usage before any water rationing becomes part of our daily lives. Once you see how your water usage is reducing, you will be spurred to find other ways to reduce your usage even further.
Make sure that all the members in your household understand the justification for these radical measures and are signed up to the cause. There is almost no limit to what you can achieve, but once you get down to approaching 50 litres/per person/per day then you deserve a gold star. The ultimate is round about the 30 litres/per person/per day but by then you will be writing your own articles as an expert in water usage.
You may also think that some of these ideas seem to require a reasonable level of fitness to carry out these measures. Well that is true, but as so many of our old practices are replaced by labour saving devices, we have become less able to accomplish these tasks, so there are health benefits from becoming a bit more active.

Trevor Brawn
Sustainable Chesham

View of the River Chess at Latimer