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Water contaminated by HS2 works at Harvil Road

Image: Molly, the Harvil Road Protection Camp dog, investigates HS2’s reckless disregard for our water. Photo by Jacob 29/07/2020.

With 2020 looking to be the hottest year on record, and the Public Accounts Committee calling for urgent government action to prevent the UK running out of water in 20 years HS2 must be stopped to mitigate against our impending and current water crisis. 

Since the end of July, HS2 works at Harvil Road, Uxbridge, has turned stream water white showing evidence of the harm that is being inflicted upon an important water bearing aquifer.  What can’t be seen, yet, is the result of the irreparable damage that HS2’s reckless disrespect for this vital water source will have, on us all.

Campaigners have long warned that HS2 drilling into the delicate aquifer risks contaminating the water supply for millions of people, not only from construction work but also from pollutants from New Years Green Bourne landfill site, adjacent to the works at Harvil Road, which has been leaching pollution since the 1970’s. 

HS2’s tunneling to divert a gas main to make way for the High Speed rail caused the white flow in the stream by Harvil Road, Uxbridge, last week and the chalky turbidity reappeared regularly despite the fact the tunneling has stopped.  This work is across the road from where HS2 contractors are currently drilling 70 meters deep into the aquifer. With plans to drive hundreds of deep piles across the valley for footings for the colossal weight of a 3.4km viaduct to carry the train, HS2 is knowingly risking polluting the water supply for millions of people.  In May, Shardeloes Lake, further along the aquifer at Amersham, turned white, HS2 refutes it had anything to do with it, despite it being next to HS2 drilling work.

HS2 and the government have known about the risks they are taking for sometime. Affinity Water, the water company which extracts 60% of their water from the aquifer supplying 3.2 million people, highlighted concerns that the water supply could be entirely jeopardised by HS2 works in a petition to parliament in 2013. In response the Department for Transport issued an indemnity to Affinity Water, to compensate them for any pollution caused by HS2 to the water in the aquifer. Effectively “paying off” a private company that is responsible for public health and welfare when it should be preserving water quality is not what constitutes effective water management. Additionally, applications to vary water abstraction licences have recently been denied which means Affinity water do not know where they will source alternate water from..

Sarah Green, Hillingdon Green Party and local Uxbridge Resident, said:  “Water is precious. HS2 Ltd is gambling with our water by drilling into the aquifer at Harvill Road and then again tunnelling through the chalk chiltern hills. HS2 is not being transparent about how much water is at risk, how they are going to stop the pollution travelling, and where they will get alternate water from. Where will our drinking water come from? The public has the right to know what is happening. The government needs to do the right thing, stop HS2 and protect our water.”

The mid chiltern chalk aquifer runs from Uxbridge to the Chiltern Hills, where tunnelling compromises the aquifer yet again. HS2 plans to bore a 13.5km tunnel through the chalk in the Chilterns area, using an estimated 6-10million litres of water a day to carry out the drilling – an estimated 30 billion litres of water over three years. This will drain already desperately depleted water supplies dry and threatens the River Misbourne entirely. Affinity Water has told HS2 that they are unable to meet their requirements.  Furthermore, HS2 have not explained how they will dispose of this colossal amount of water destined to emerge as slurry which conservationists fear will result in chemicals polluting the naturally filtered water in the aquifer, affecting drinking water and the region’s chalk streams and waterways, resulting in loss of biodiversity in species rich wetlands.  Repeated boring in many different areas along the length of the aquifer will mix good water with pockets of long term chronic pollution, a fact that HS2 are ignoring in their risk assessments along with any acknowledgement about the risk from the known landfill site.

It’s not just about the threat to drinking water. HS2 are diverting 34 lakes through active flood zones and draining lakes which will affect surrounding areas. Works will be polluting waterways up and down the line, which affects precious groundwater and wildlife. The drastic clearance of woodland is now and will continue to contribute to the flooding and drought and the climate and ecological emergency we all face.

Water at Shardeloes lake, Amersham, in May, near HS2 drilling

Drilling works at Harvil Road site, Uxbridge.

With 2020 looking to be the hottest year on record, and the Public Accounts Committee calling for urgent government action to prevent the UK running out of water in 20 years HS2 must be stopped to mitigate against our impending and current water crisis.

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