Since South West Water’s “temporary usage ban” has been extended across the River Tamar to much of North and West Devon we’re extending our coverage of the drought too.
This week’s Environment Agency rainfall summary hasn’t been published yet, but I can assure you that the weather’s been warm and dry. Here’s a distant picture I took of our local Crowdy Reservoir on Sunday 21st May :
Davidstow Moor has dried out, and the water level in the reservoir has started to decline. Here’s the South West Lakes Trust’s report of water levels in Cornwall on the 21st. It also includes Roadford Lake, the largest reservoir in Devon:
Continuing my due diligence regarding the current “astonishingly low” water level in Colliford Reservoir I’ve been searching for hints on South West Water’s recently announced plans for two new desalination plants on the south coast of Cornwall. I’ve been poring over their draft Water Resources Management Plan (dWRMP for short) for 2024, which I downloaded quite some time ago. It’s a hefty document, but given the recent media frenzy about possible desalination plants in Cornwall I’ve been over it with the proverbial fine tooth comb. I eventually discovered the information I was searching for in the last place I looked.
Chapter 8 on “Supply-Side Option Development” seemed the best place to start. It had this to say:
The potential addition of repurposed mines and quarries and desalination as supply side options for our SWW WRZs are being developed in response to the current (2022) drought. At this time, no specific options can be included within our feasible list. Work is ongoing and we envisage options will be progressed to a stage where they can be included in our approach by the time of our Statement of Response. Refer to Annex C of this Chapter for more information on our considerations on the use of desalination as part of our revised dWRMP.
It’s getting late in the County of Cornwall, so I’ll be brief to begin with. Much more from me in due course, but for now I’ll merely mention that yesterday I was interviewed by BBC reporter Kirk England on top of the Colliford Reservoir dam. You can read all about that in another Davidstow.info article, catchily entitled “Where has the water in Colliford Lake gone?“. That one is also a work in progress, so I have a fair bit of catching up to do.
Not only that, but also on the previous Monday I was interviewed by ITV reporter Grace Pascoe about a rather different environmental issue. You can read all about that in an article catchily entitled “How long does it take for Truth to pull her boots on?”. That one is also a work in progress, so I have a lot of catching up to do!
In case you’re wondering, the common thread here is the way information is distorted as it moves in fits and starts across the world wide interweb. Chinese whispers if you prefer, but I prefer the term “truth decay”. In todays initially brief example, Kirk’s article on the BBC web site about the abnormally low water level in Colliford Lake included this extract of our recent conversation:
Environmental campaigner Jim Hunt from Davidstow, near Camelford, has been monitoring reservoir levels – including at Colliford – for the last few years and said the level was “astonishingly low”.
“It rained hard over winter, with a very dry February and now Cornwall’s biggest reservoir is half-full,” he said.
The reservoir level at Colliford is “astonishingly low” according to environmental activist Jim Hunt of Davidstow, near Camelford, who has been keeping tabs on reservoir levels for the past few years.
Cornwall’s largest reservoir is only about halfway full, he said, because of the heavy rainfall experienced throughout the winter and the unusually dry conditions in February. “Where’s the water gone?”
The article led with this artistic mashup of my very own visage with an aerial view of Colliford Lake and the suggestion that “Desalination ‘could provide third of county’s water'”:
I suddenly find myself strangely schizophrenic. Is “Jim Hunt” an “activist” or a “campaigner” or both? And does “Kirk England” have an alter ego called “Kelly James”?
[Edit – March 8th]
I’ll have to stop Googling at bed time. It’s bad for my health. Tonight I discovered an allegedly “exclusive” report about South West Water’s plans to construct two desalination plants on the south coast of Cornwall. Google linked me to an article on inews, a mainstream media organisation which claims to be “For Open Minds“. Allegedly:
inews.co.uk is the UK’s most trusted news brand, according to data from industry auditor PAMCo. We’re proudly independent and have no agenda when it comes to political disputes – but we won’t hesitate to call out injustice or wrongdoing when we see it, no matter who’s doing it.
Our coverage of the news doesn’t stop at the headline, but digs deep with people-focused stories that reveal the truth of life in the UK, explainers that make politics plain, and vibrant coverage of social and cultural talking points.
More than a third of Cornwall’s drinking water could come from desalination if plans for two plants go ahead, South West Water said.
The two plants planned for Cornwall’s south coast will provide around 60 million litres a day. Cornwall uses 170 million litres of water in a 24-hour period, meaning more than a third of its water could come from the desalination plants.
South West Water is yet to disclose the two locations for the plants, but admitted they would not be ready by the time tourist numbers begin to rise significantly over Easter or by the time hundreds of thousands flock to the country each month during the summer holidays.
A spokesman for South West Water said: “We are working towards having plants operational by the end of summer 2023 and are working closely with the Environment Agency and Cornwall Council to achieve this challenging target.
The thing is David, I’d already established that fact long before you “tweeted” your “exclusive”. At 9:46 AM on March 7th to be precise:
As you can see, I’d also managed to dig out an “exclusive” of my very own. As I drift off to sleep with the rain pattering on the window I cannot help but wonder:
How do mainstream media “Chief News Correspondents” go about doing their due diligence in this day and age?
[Edit – March 9th]
After a fitful night’s sleep I woke early by my standards. I decide to experiment with Bing’s shiny new “AI powered” search engine. I eagerly typed in “Jim Hunt Davidstow” (without the quotes) and pressed “enter”.
Top of the image search was this excellent portrait of me:
Page 1 of Bing’s search results looked like this above the fold:
As our regular reader(s) will be aware, we have been closely following the water level in Crowdy Reservoir since the locked down spring of 2020. We also started following the water level of Colliford Lake very closely in the early summer of 2022 and during the subsequent drought. Cornwall is still subject to a “hosepipe ban“, officially termed a “temporary use ban”.
More recently we have been astonished to watch the graph of Colliford water storage on South West Water’s web site as the water level in by far the largest of Cornwall’s reservoirs failed to reach even 50% of total net capacity so far this year. By last weekend it had even started to fall:
This morning we went to see for ourselves what a half full reservoir looks like. Here is some of what we discovered, starting with evidence of previous human activity in the vicinity of what used to be Menniridden, recently uncovered for an extended period by the currently abnormally low water level in the reservoir:
Here’s the first in a series of videos we recorded. This one starts with Kasia wandering across the vast exposed “beach”, shot from on top of Colliford Dam:
Despite the very wet Autumn here in the wild and woolly West Country, South West Water still have a “hosepipe ban” in place across Cornwall. The automated rainfall gauge 49104 at Colliford Lake reveals that there has been very little rainfall in the area for the last three weeks:
As a consequence of that, the water level in Cornwall’s largest reservoir is now still below 50% and decreasing:
As part of South West Water’s continued investment in water resilience across the region, the company is today applying for a permit to unlock supplies from a new source in Cornwall.
Hawks Tor was a redundant china clay pit on Bodmin Moor purchased by South West Water in March 2022, the brownfield site has been converted into a water source and should be supplying customers this month.
This will be the first reservoir brought online by any water company in the country during the ongoing drought, using the latest technology to secure supplies in the short term and provide greater longer term resilience.
Susan Davy, CEO of Pennon Group which owns South West Water, said: “We continue to deliver on our long-standing commitment to investing in our region’s water resources, building capacity where it is needed most and ensuring long-term water resilience across the region. Having only acquired the site a matter of months ago, Hawks Tor should be supplying customers in November. We Continue to take early and proactive actions to ensure the security of water supply for our region during the current drought and into the future.”
There ultimately proved to be two official heatwaves in August, but Autumn now seems to have arrived in North Cornwall. It is currently raining, but it remains to be seen how quickly the decline in Cornish reservoir levels can be reversed.
The water level at Colliford reduced by 3.1% of its total net capacity last week. Stithians fell by 3.2%. Our local Crowdy Reservoir declined by 2% over the week and Upper Tamar reservoir is down to 24% of its total net capacity.
As the weeks have passed the answer to that question seems increasingly likely to be “Yes”. Hence we’ll begin August 2022 with the current water levels of Cornish reservoirs provided by the South West Lakes Trust:
As you can see the water levels in both Colliford and Stithians reservoirs are already below their lowest levels last year. Colliford is also well below its level at the beginning of August 1995, a particularly dry year for Cornwall and other parts of the United Kingdom.