Today is World Water Day and this year the theme is what water means to people. Clean water is essential for our health and the health of our natural environment. Imagine how different our lives would be if we were not able to rely on clean water being available at the turn of a tap!
Drinking water for the city of Brighton & Hove and surrounding area comes from ground water stored in a natural aquifer under the chalk downs. This water has filtered through the chalk to the aquifer over many years which should mean that it would be naturally crystal clear. However, ground water is very susceptible to pollution, from things such as too much fertiliser being used on the land above to pollution from roads, vehicles and chemicals being washed down roadside drains. This means that water companies have to use a lot of energy intensive processes to ensure our water is safe to drink.
But what if there was another way?
Here in the Brighton chalk block of The Living Coast, an innovative project has been working away for the past few years to develop and support sustainable ways of protecting the aquifer and our precious groundwater from pollution. The Aquifer Partnership (TAP) works together with farmers, land managers and urban planners to reduce the amount of pollution filtering through to the aquifer. They work with farmers to trial techniques like cover crops which stops ploughed soil being left bare over winter, helping to reduce soil erosion and water run-off. They work with urban planners to utilise rain gardens to filter pollution from water running off roads through special planting schemes. The Aquifer Partnership are also raising awareness of the importance of our groundwater within local communities, to show how we can all play our part.
Susie Howells, The Aquifer Partnership’s Development Manager says: “our groundwater is at risk in the town and on the downs from pollution, getting into the aquifer from roads and vehicles; and from chemicals used on crops, in gardens and other open spaces. We can all play our part in being guardians of this wonderful groundwater and it doesn’t have to be difficult – it could be as simple as extra planting in your garden or using fewer chemicals.”
TAP’s Top Tips for helping our groundwater are:
- Create a rain garden
Rain gardens are designed to mimic the natural processes that break down pollution and reduce flood risk by slowing water down. They use the power of plants to filter and cleanse polluted water. Easy to incorporate into a garden or allotment, it can be as simple a planted area with gravel and sand layers below to cleanse water before it filters into the ground. For more advice see https://raingardens.info
- Drain your driveway
To avoid excessive surface water run-off, it’s a good idea to choose permeable paving and have it properly installed. Take a look at the Royal Horticultural Society’s guide to permeable driveways.
- Healthy plants – help your herbaceous perennials
You can prevent chemicals leaching into the groundwater by avoiding chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Well-rotted manure can be spread and dug into the soil in spring, rather than in the autumn. Companion plants help to attract beneficial insects, taking those unwanted pests’ attention away from your prize blooms and veggies.
- Don’t leave your beds bare!
Don’t leave your beds bare over winter – sow “green manure” seeds such as phacelia or crimson clover in the autumn and they will help improve soil health and prevent nitrate leaching. The flowers also attract beneficial insects like hoverflies. Phacelia makes an excellent companion for kale, broccoli and tomatoes – and it’s very fast-growing!
- Only rain down the drain
Most road drains and surface drains are designed to carry only rainwater. Pouring pollutants down these drains is like pouring them straight into the groundwater via a soakaway. Just one litre of oil can pollute one million litres of drinking water.
To learn more about our precious groundwater and chalk aquifer, and about the work of The Aquifer Partnership, visit their website: www.wearetap.org.uk
*Image credit: SDNP Mischa Haller