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Sep 19, 2019
Category: HS2
Posted by: Kathryn

With HS2 under review, please contact your MP if you have concerns about this project and its impact on our local rivers.

Jul 18, 2019
Category: Drought
Posted by: Kathryn

Please write to your MP before the 22nd July to encourage them to attend the House of Commons debate on the plight of chalk streams.

Jun 19, 2019
Category: General
Posted by: Kathryn

We are part of a new project to make data available to the public on the impacts of pollution on the River Chess.

Jun 7, 2019
Category: Drought
Posted by: Kathryn

River groups call for water restrictions now as drought conditions threaten southern chalk streams.

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New Threat Facing the Chess

Dec 6, 2012

Category: Abstraction
Posted by: Kathryn

Dry riverbed in August 2012

The dry river channel along Waterside, Chesham, in August 2012

Work has been commissioned by the Environment Agency (EA) to look at the effects of abstraction from the chalk aquifer on the River Chess. As a result, the EA is considering changing the status of the Chess from "over-abstracted" to "over-licensed". The current over-abstracted designation means that water companies that are responsible for the abstraction must take measures that will lead to a reduction in abstraction. Changing to the over-licensed status will mean that no incremental licences will be issued, but there will be no requirement to study the effect of existing abstraction. This would be a backward step for the Chess and will make tackling low flows in the river even more challenging.

The EA are considering the change in status because the commissioned report indicates that abstraction has little or no effect on flows in the Chess. The RCA has not seen this report, despite making numerous requests to the EA. However, we have seen an inconclusive report issued in 2008 by Jacobs entitled "Restoring Sustainable Abstraction Investigation - Stage 2 Plan: River Chess". The report states that the Upper Chess is historically ephemeral, that there is insufficient data to make an accurate assessment and that the Chess is relatively better off than the adjacent chalk rivers, such as the Misbourne and the Ver.

The upper Chess may currently be ephemeral, but this cannot be true historically. In Chesham, the Chess powered a number of substantial mills. When built, these mills would have represented a significant investment; something that would not have happened if the power source was "ephemeral". In addition, the river also supported a thriving watercress industry in Chesham, again something that required a clean, reliable and constant source of water.

We believe that little or no new data has been collected since 2008, so the Jacobs report's conclusion that there is insufficient data to make a meaningful conclusion still holds true. If the abstraction pumps were switched off, this would give us a true indication of the impact of abstraction on the river.

Comparing the Chess with the Misbourne and Ver is wrong. Both these rivers are suffering dreadfully from over-abstraction. The Chess has its flow augmented from the outflow from the Chesham Sewage Treatment Works and a mysterious pipe that flows just below Lord's Mill, the source of which is unknown. Without these two manmade sources, we estimate that the Chess would have been dry down to Bois Mill this year, which equates to about a third of its length. The comparison that should be made is between the Chess today and the Chess 100 years ago. This would show us the true effect of abstraction.

It seems very strange and highly disappointing that the Environment Agency should appear to be working against the conservation of the river. The Chess needs more protection and action to improve the flows, not less. We will be meeting with the Environment Agency in the near future to discuss this further; they tell us that no final decision has been made at present.

We have a number of issue on the Chess, including pollution, invasive species and mill weirs, but none of these are important if there is no water flowing in the river.