Ennerdale Water, upstream of the River Ehen SAC, and part of Ennerdale SSSI, is currently a key source of public water supply for West Cumbria and United Utilities (UU) is licensed to abstract water under the Water Resources Act. The Ennerdale Water abstraction licence has recently undergone a series of reviews by the Environment Agency (EA) through the Habitats Directive ‘Review of Consents’ process. The current abstraction and a potential future drought order at Ennerdale Water have been determined to have potentially significant negative impacts on both interest features of the River Ehen SAC. In December 2013, the EA confirmed the decision ‘to revoke the Ennerdale Water abstraction licence as soon as is reasonably practicable and to investigate options with regard to timing of weir removal and withdrawal of the compensation flow’.
UU will continue to significantly decrease public water supply abstraction from Ennerdale Water until the complete removal of abstraction is possible in 2022, when the West Cumbria water resource zone will be connected to UU Integrated resource zone via the Thirlmere Transfer pipeline. There is over-riding public interest to continue to provide public water supply until the replacement source is fully connected. In accordance with Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive, compensatory measures need to be secured because it cannot be concluded that continued abstraction will not lead to an adverse effect on site integrity.
UU, in conjunction with the EA and Natural England (NE), has developed a package of compensatory measures that will reduce, or offset, adverse impacts on the River Ehen SAC as a result of continued abstraction from Ennerdale Water, and a potential drought order, whilst the alternative public supply is put in place. This package includes both physical conservation measures and research measures and was submitted to Defra in February 2014. There is a legal agreement, signed in July 2015, between UU, NE and the EA which describes each physical and research measure, programme and governance of the package. The aim of the agreed package of measures is to restore the habitat which enables the sustainable recruitment of freshwater mussels and salmon, primarily in the River Ehen SAC, and to undertake research and monitoring to understand how this outcome would best be achieved. The package must deliver ‘over and above’ what can be achieved through other schemes e.g. agri-environment schemes.
As part of the package of physical measures, UU have purchased land around the River Ehen. UU land ownership in the upper River Ehen includes, Low Moorend, The Mill, and land on the south bank of the river, including Bleach Green; the mussel population in these areas is significant. All agricultural activity came to an end on UU owned fields at the end of 2015 or earlier. The cessation of agriculture in these fields around the River Ehen aims to reduce the flow of nutrient rich water and sediment into the river, which are known to adversely affect both mussels and Atlantic salmon and the general health of a river ecosystem.