A major five-year £500,000 project has launched to help safeguard the chalk aquifer of the South Downs that supplies water to 1.2m people and is under increasing threat from climate change.
The Aquifer Partnership (TAP) will work to protect groundwater in the Brighton Chalk Block from pollution, as well as increase resilience to climate change and extreme weather events that can cause flooding and drought.
Led by a partnership between the South Downs National Park Authority, Brighton & Hove City Council, Southern Water the Environment Agency and supported by The Living Coast Biosphere, the wide-reaching programme will work with residents, farmers, landowners, and schools across the Brighton, Hove and Lewes area to safeguard our drinking water.
It comes as there is a pressing need to tackle rising nitrate levels in groundwater that leaches into the aquifer from urban and rural sources such as road run-off and fertilisers. Over 70 per cent of Southern Water’s groundwater sources within the Brighton area have rising nitrate levels requiring either a treatment or a catchment based solution to manage concentrations. Southern Water projections also show that within their supply area in the South East a third of its water sources may be lost 25 years from now due to the impacts of climate change, while the population it serves could have grown by 15 per cent. Without action, Southern Water predicts a supply and demand deficit by 2030.
The Aquifer Partnership is a re-launch of the Brighton ChaMP for Water project, which was established in 2016 to protect and improve the quality of groundwater in the chalk landscape around Brighton. The team has already engaged with scores of farmers and land managers, as well as conducted vital research into using the power of nature to reduce pollution. This includes plant-powered drainage systems in busy urban areas and winter cover crops on fields that would normally be left bare.
TAP will now focus on delivery, with an ambitious programme designed to bring people together to care for this precious resource, including:
- Pushing for new developments to address groundwater protection and climate change resilience.
- Creating new and innovative “rainscape” projects in the Brighton, Hove and Lewes area, including in parks and at schools. These are sustainable drainage systems that use areas of vegetation to collect run-off and naturally cleanse the water so it enters the chalk aquifer in a much cleaner state.
- Working with farmers and landowners to promote groundwater-friendly interventions, such as the use of cover crops to help soak up nitrate and improve soil quality (potentially reducing nitrate leaching by 90 per cent)
- A wider urban awareness programme to promote more groundwater-friendly land management at recreation and industrial sites.
- A programme of community engagement and school workshops across the Brighton, Hove and Lewes area to raise awareness of the importance of the aquifer for future generations.
- Collaboration with equestrian facilities to include them in the wider TAP programme of sustainable manure management.
Funding for TAP will be contributed equally between the four partner organisations and spread over the next five years.
For more information on TAP visit www.wearetap.org.uk