Abberton Reservoir brings waters of life

EXG SEPT 13 Abberton

EXG SEPT 13 Abberton - Credit: Archant

Essex is renowned for being the driest county in the UK. We receive, on average, less than 600mm of rain each year. Over the next 25 years the demand for water in the Essex supply area is predicted to rise by an estimated 6% due to the increase in population.

To make an available, long-term and sustainable increase in water resources, Essex & Suffolk Water have put £150 million into a ground-breaking project called the Abberton Reservoir Scheme that will secure supplies for more than 1.5million people in Essex over the next two decades.

Abberton Reservoir is situated in a scenic part of the Essex countryside near Colchester and it is the largest freshwater body in the county. The scheme includes the enlargement of the reservoir to hold an additional 15billion litres of water, increasing the storage capacity by 58% over 485 hectares.

The project is scheduled for completion this autumn and it is the first major reservoir development plan in 30 years. The scheme is also one of the UK’s biggest civil engineering projects and the enlargement will help bolster supplies to Chelmsford, Basildon, Brentwood, Southend as well as Thurrock and the London boroughs of Barking, Dagenham and Havering and Redbridge.

The scheme has been awarded a prestigious Green Apple Environment Award in the national campaign to find Britain’s greenest companies, councils and communities. This award recognises Essex & Suffolk Water, which is part of the Northumbrian Water Group, for its environmental best practice and sustainability.

John Devall, water director for Essex & Suffolk Water, explains: ‘We pride ourselves on leading the industry in thinking of creative ways to be as sustainable as possible and this can be seen throughout the Abberton scheme. For example, the extensive re-use of materials onsite has helped minimise the impact on our neighbouring communities and ensured the project is as sustainable as possible.’

Sustainability and innovation were at the heart of the project. As well as enhancing the size of the reservoir, Essex & Suffolk Water has improved transfer enhancement which involves the construction of two new pipelines for increased conveyance of water from Denver to Abberton.

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Also, the strategic use of crushed concrete and material won within the site kept vehicles off the public highway, reducing the impact upon local communities in an extremely rural location.

Another part of the Abberton scheme has been designed to increase the value of the reservoir for the birds and other wildlife and it has developed into one of the most important sites in Britain for wildfowl, particularly as an overwintering habitat.

To provide excellent habitats for the wildfowl, the reservoir has had most of the existing concrete edges removed and replaced with gently shelved edges, which are attractive to many species of waterfowl. In winter the site regularly supports more than 20,000 waterfowl, including internationally or nationally important populations of migratory species.

Elizabeth Scott, communications project manager for Essex & Suffolk Water, comments: ‘The Abberton Reservoir is a beautiful area with fantastic views. As part of the project we moved the Essex Wildlife Centre so it didn’t flood and it can overview the stunning scenery.’

Another set of features that are in progress to be built around the reservoir include making bridal ways, footpaths and cycle routes for everyone to use and enjoy in the stunning countryside.

It is this positive engagement with the community and key investors that have lead to the Abberton Reservoir enhancement being cited as an example of best practice with respect to early and meaningful engagement in the 2012 Government review of the Habitats Directive.

John adds: ‘This essential scheme shows how critical infrastructure development can go hand in hand with sustainability and environmental conservation. It is brilliant to know, all of this will benefit a better future for the people and wildlife of Essex.’