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Water Environment

Chalk streams  

The chalk streams in England are estimated to account for 85% of the world’s chalk stream habitats and, of these, a majority are in Hertfordshire.  A healthy water body has thriving populations of fish, plants, diatoms (microscopic algae) and invertebrates (animals that do not have backbones including flatworms, leeches, snails and other molluscs, and insects such as mayflies, stoneflies and caddis flies). They depend upon a healthy flow of water and a variety of natural habitats. All of these are affected by the levels of pollution and nutrients in the water, and the shape and structure of the water body.


Most of Hertfordshire’s water comes from sources deep below ground level called aquifers (an underground area that holds water), from which water is extracted through boreholes. Groundwater levels vary throughout the year as a result of the amount of rainfall penetrating through to the aquifer to “recharge” it. It can take as long as 6 months for rainwater to filter through to the aquifer but this is dependant on the location and the amount of rain received. Most recharge is made in the autumn and winter months, during this period less rainfall runs off into rivers, is lost from evaporation or used for plant growth. 

This gives rise to the highest groundwater levels around April, and lowest levels usually in October.

River health

Within the UK, the health of the water environment is assessed using the Water Framework Directive. Under this Directive, the aim is for all rivers, lakes, reservoirs, streams, canals, estuaries, coastal and groundwater (known as water bodies) to be in good ecological health by 2027.  

Every year the Environment Agency analyses the data collected and compares it to a standard. The standard used is a water body that is of a similar type, but is in a natural, or almost natural, condition. That is to say, it has not been greatly affected by pollution or other human activities, and is considered to be in good ecological health.

The assessment measure is then given a classification that depends on how it compares to the standard. When the health of a water body is worse than the target of Good Ecological Status or Good Ecological Potential, we say that it is failing, and the reasons why are investigated.  

In 2009 the status of each water body was classified in a River Basin Management Plan. Hertfordshire also collects data each year which indicates the health of water bodies based on current best evidence and the River Basin Management Plan will be formally updated in 2015.

There are 41 water bodies within Hertfordshire. In 2012, based on current best evidence, their health has been assessed as follows:  

14.5% were classified as good; these include Tykeswater near Radlett and the Upper Ash.
39% were classified as moderate; these include the Upper Rib and the Ver. 
34% were classified as poor; these include the River Quin and the Lee at Hertford.
2.5% were classified as bad; this is the Stort Navigation through Bishops Stortford.
10% of the water bodies have not yet been fully assessed.

Water Issues

Hertfordshire is also located in the driest region in the country.  The East of England receives only two thirds of the average UK annual rainfall.  Hertfordshire is an area of serious water stress and catchments are classified as over-abstracted or over-licensed.  Many of the region’s surface and ground waters are under severe pressure and, following two consecutive autumn and winter periods of below average rainfall in 2010/11 and 2011/12, much of the region experienced drought conditions and consequently restrictions in water use.  

In April 2012, the water levels got so low that Veolia Water (now Affinity Water), along with other water companies in the south east of England imposed a Temporary Use Ban, on 5 April 2012, restricting the use of water. At the same time, rainfall increased and April’s rainfall was 250% of average. This started one of the wettest summers on record, and unusually, gave rise to significant summer recharge, which caused water levels to rise from the beginning of May. The recovering water level position allowed the lifting of the Temporary Use Ban in July and the water level rise continued into the autumn, as did the excessive rainfall. Groundwater levels reached their average values in October and continued to rise, approaching their highest ever levels.

Although the rainfall in 2012 helped Hertfordshire’s water resources to recover; drought situations, should they happen again in the future, will be further compounded by potential changes to both the pattern and the amount of rainfall.

Water Consumption

Water is a precious resource and is not as abundant as we might think. The average person in England and Wales uses 150 litres of water a day and the average family uses 500 litres of water a day (including communal use of appliances).   Most of this water is used for washing and toilet flushing, but it also includes drinking, cooking, car washing and watering the garden. We use almost 50 per cent more water than 25 years ago, partly because of power showers and household appliances. By 2020 the demand for water could increase by 800 million extra litres of water a day.  

To ensure sustainable water resources the Government has published a water strategy for England - Future Water.  This strategy outlines a vision for the average person to reduce the water they use by 20 litres per day to 130 litres a day.   Hertfordshire is recognised as having one of the highest rates of water consumption in the country, consumption is 9% higher than the England and Wales average. In 2011 the average non-metered per capita consumption was 173 litres per person per day and 152 litres per person per day for metered residents.  

As Hertfordshire residents we therefore need to change our habits so that we not only reduce our water consumption to the level of the national average but beyond it to the future vision of 130 litres per person per day.  On average, we need to save 33 litres per person per day.   

Green our Herts is a county-wide partnership of local authorities and voluntary organisations aiming to promote water efficiency to Hertfordshire’s residents.  

Here are some top tips to help you save water:  

  • Turn your tap off whilst brushing your teeth and save 6 litres of water per minuteCutting your shower time by just 1 minute saves up to 10 litres of water.Using a hose for 10 minutes wastes 60 litres of water.
  • Collect rainwater to water your garden instead.
  • Every flush uses up to 9 litres of drinkable water. 
  • For bathroom rubbish, don’t use your toilet and don’t flush unnecessarily
  • Running the tap for cold water wastes 6 litres per minute, keep a jug of water in the fridge.
  • Fix leaky taps as soon as you notice them.  This saves up to 60 litres of water a week.   Find your nearest plumber with Watersafe.


Following these simple tips will quickly help you on your way to saving 33 litres per day. 

How green is your home? Explore our interactive house for money saving tips and suggestions.