Copeland Water Supply

Many local residents have been in touch recently with concerns about our water supply. 

I wrote to Steve Mogford CEO of United Utilities on behalf of the residents of Copeland, about the lack of communication with regard to ongoing changes to our water supply. There have also been concerns raised about the safety of the supply following reports of water making popping sounds when boiling in a kettle.

Following on from my letter, I was pleased that United Utilities arranged a number of open days allowing residents to discuss their concerns with members of The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and United Utilities.  I am sure you will be reassured that an independent report by 'The Drinking Water Inspectorate' ruled that the water is completely safe to drink. In addition to this United Utilities constantly monitors and tests the water provided, both prior to, and after the blending of, the mixture.

The Environment Agency now legally requires United Utilities to reduce water abstraction from Ennerdale Lake and the River Ehen, to protect sensitive natural habitats and so have started sourcing water from groundwater sites in South Egremont.

Under the European Union Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora (92/43/EEC), the River Ehen was identified as a Special Area of Conservation. This demonstrates the importance of the river and the need to preserve the habitats. To quote the West Cumbria Rivers Trust: 'given the importance of the British populations in a European and global context, their loss would have a catastrophic impact on the overall survival of the Freshwater Pearl Mussels in Europe.'

The River Ehen supports the largest viable population of Freshwater Pearl Mussels in England, in our current climate these mussel populations are under threat. In the 1970s there were approximately 6 million Freshwater Mussels in the Ehen. Today, however, there are just under half a million. This sudden drop in Mussel population is down to a variety of factors, from river depth to the quality of silt. To preserve and promote these populations, The Environment Agency and DEFRA therefore directed United Utilities to reduce their water usage from Ennerdale Water. 

I fully understand and appreciate the concerns raised, concerns which were shared by many across the community. This compelled me to create an online petition calling for the Environment Agency to allow United Utilities to abstract the maximum allowable level of water from Ennerdale until the completion of the Thirlmere Pipeline Project in 2022. I passionately believed that a situation which allows United Utilities to distribute a 50:50 mix of Ennerdale and borehole water is completely unreasonable, and that we should move away from such a level being allowed.

In addition to this, during the summer I held an urgent meeting with Copeland's Mayor, Mike Starkie, the Environment Agency, The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and United Utilities to discuss the proposal. We discussed the current situation and our options going forward. The meeting itself was very productive with the result being a softer blend of tap water provided to our homes. Under the new water supply arrangements, agreed at the meeting, we will receive a consistent blend of water classed as soft throughout the year, by using a smaller proportion of borehole water. Martin Padley, Water and Scientific Services Director at United Utilities, said: "We made the original changes to the supply to meet a requirement to reduce the amount of water taken from Ennerdale and so improve the ecology of the River Ehen.

"All our tests have consistently shown the water to be of the usual high quality, but we have taken on board the concerns of our customers who said they didn't like the harder water.

I'm really pleased that we have been able to arrive at a compromise which will allow us to keep the amount of borehole water in the blend to a minimum, while still providing benefits for the local environment."

The only circumstances under which the proportion of borehole water would ever be increased will be in times of drought when the level of Ennerdale reaches a certain low point. Rainfall models indicate this might happen once in four years.

In relation to the Facebook group, West Cumbria Water Supply (Save our Water Services), I have sent representation to a meeting of the group's committee, and will aim to attend any future meetings myself. Attending these meetings will allow me to understand the true impact this is having on our community, and present such concerns to the Environment Agency and United Utilities.

United Utilities is presently constructing a new £300 million scheme to bring soft water from Thirlmere Reservoir to West Cumbria. The scheme involves the construction of 100km of new pipeline, a new treatment plant, two new pumping stations and two new underground service reservoirs. Ennerdale water will not be used after the new scheme comes on line in 2022.

 I hope that as a community we are satisfied with our transitional water supply.

Please do get in touch with me by email trudy.harrison.mp@parliament.uk or call the office on 01229 718 333 if you would like to discuss further.