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The River Beane Restoration Association (RBRA) has been established since 1991 with the main objective of reducing the no flow and low- flow problems of the river and improving the river environment. These objectives are supported by all the Parish Councils of the villages in the Beane Valley and also by the Hertford Town Council.

There is now increased recognition by the Environment Agency that the only way of increasing flow and improving the environment in the upper reaches of the river is to drastically reduce or stop altogether abstraction at the Whitehall pumping station, and replace this water by imports from outside the catchment area. An announcement of a Whitehall Pump station abstraction licence reduction was expected from the Environment Agency in October 2012, but has been delayed to February 2013.

The most recent development has seen the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust (HMWT) take a very active role in helping to raise awareness of the plight of the upper River Beane. The HMWT, together with the River Beane Restoration Association and the Friends of the Mimram has now produced the Beane/Mimram Catchment Management Plan as an active website - www.beaneandmimrampartnership.org.uk. It is a dynamic, ‘live’ website which will be updated regularly to reflect the status of various projects and monitoring results.

If you want for more information about the RBRA, please contact either of the following.

Background

The upper River Beane rises north of Cromer. It then flows through Walkern and Aston and joins the Stevenage Brook before passing through Watton-at-Stone. The lower Beane runs through the Woodhall Estate, Stapleford and Waterford and on to Hertford where it joins the River Lee.

It was a noted trout stream in the 1800s and properties with fishing rights sold at a premium. There was a water mill and watercress beds in Walkern and another mill at Watton-at-Stone. Older residents can remember swimming in the river; it was that deep in places. All this has vanished with the mill in Walkern now converted into flats and the watercress beds remaining as a wet patch. The mill at Watton-at-Stone has been demolished.

About 20 years ago, concerned residents in Aston noticed that the river was dry for long periods and decided to find out why. The river only flowed in the winter, although the adjoining Stevenage Brook appeared to have more water all year. Others concerned persons soon joined them from adjoining villages and the RBRA was formed in 1991.

Even in those early days it was believed the culprit for the long periods of dry river condition was the over abstraction from the Whitehall pumping station, which supplies water to Stevenage.

Recent Past

The National Rivers Authority (NRA), which was later incorporated into the Environment Agency, chose the river to be the subject of a study into low-flows [i.e. the Alleviation of Low Flows (ALF) project] because it was one of the 10 worst rivers in the country. The NRA commissioned a programme of study, which included the installation of 9 measuring boreholes in the upper Beane valley. The RBRA has been taking readings from these boreholes for the last 15 years, and continue to do so on a monthly basis for the Environment Agency.

The NRA concluded that the Whitehall pumping station located near Aston was licenced to take too much water and no account had been taken of the environmental impacts when the licence was granted. The NRA proposed a solution, and a programme was agreed in the late 1990s. This proposal was to close the Whitehall pumping station and relocate the water-supply point further down the catchment where it was thought the supply situation would be more robust. This programme, which should have completed by 2003, was not implemented due to emerging concerns about the River Mimram.

There followed a further plan to reduce water abstraction at Whitehall by 50% and take the rest from further down the catchment. This was never implemented because the sites for trial boreholes near Stapleford were never acquired for flow testing by the water company -Three Valleys Water (now Affinity Water).

Today

Current thinking by the Environment Agency is to reduce abstraction by importing water from outside the catchment area as well as encouraging us all to use less. Hertfordshire is one of the highest per capita users of water in the UK.

The region still has the threat of major house-building programmes that were enshrined in the now defunct East of England plan. Although the East of England Assembly no longer exists, the pressure for more housing does.

The RBRA is worried that development will proceed without proper infrastructure improvement. New planning regulations mean that the planners should consider sustainability, but the RBRA feels that it is unlikely that local planners will refuse permissions due to water shortages. Although it is likely that the extra water for new developments will be imported to the area, we feel it unlikely that enough extra will be imported to alleviate the present shortage. If this happens, the authorities could claim that the new developments are sustainable, and ignore the fact that the present situation is not.

The provision of local sewage-treatment, instead of pumping sewage from the Beane Valley villages and Stevenage all the way to Rye Meads sewage treatment works near Hoddesdon, has also been considered but not found much favour. There does however need to be some element of water re-use in new housing developments etc. Examples of this approach can be found in Germany and it is successful. For this concept to work in the UK, a change to the Building Regulations is necessary, because although the government would like to see these measures adopted, industry are reluctant unless everyone has to do it.

Importation of water, additional reservoirs and local re-use of water have all been raised as possible solutions, but obviously none are the remit of local planners or the local water company. The position is worsened because the water-supply company and the water-treatment company are not the same in the Beane Valley, so the possibility of co-ordinated thinking is reduced. This needs a strategic initiative, which is noticeable by its absence. It needs politicians to be involved.

It must be noted that that our local MP, Oliver Heald, is very supportive of the RBRA activity and he maintains a pressure on government departments that have influence on the problems affecting the River Beane.

Over the past couple of years the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has become very involved in the problems of the chalk streams of south eastern England. It has produced two very good publications, namely 'Rivers on the Edge' and 'Riverside Tales', with the support of the HSBC Climate Partnership. Both publications feature the problems of the River Beane.

In September 2011, the WWF identified the River Beane as one of the rivers that should be included in the list of the 10 least-improved rivers in England. The WWF justified this inclusion because of the long campaign by the RBRA over many years, the recognition of the problems by the Environment Agency 15 years ago, and the fact that nothing has yet been done about it.

River Beane