It is full steam ahead for the Havant Thicket Reservoir, a joint project between Portsmouth Water and Southern Water which will change how vast areas of south east England are supplied with water and how collaboration and asset management is carried out across the industry in the United Kingdom.
In January, Portsmouth Water issued contract notices worth £140 million for both the construction of the reservoir and a major pipeline. A decision on whether planning permission has been granted is expected before the Spring.
Havant Thicket will be the first new reservoir constructed in the United Kingdom for nearly 30 years, capable of holding 8,700 million litres of water and supplying the region with 21 million litres every day.
The development comes at a vital time. South east England is currently categorised as being under serious water stress already. Climate change and population growth will squeeze supplies even further.
At the same time, water companies are being asked to take less water from environmentally sensitive sources. Higher demand combined with a more considered approach to extraction is a perfect storm of problems.
Southern Water are one of those companies who need to find new water resources. Their customers in Hampshire have been supplied with drinking water taken from the River Test and River Itchen.
Both are part of an important network of chalk streams and rivers from which extraction must stop to keep them healthy and protect wildlife.
In contrast, Portsmouth Water is one of the few supply areas in the region which is under moderate water stress thanks to underground springs.
These springs provide so much water that when demand is lower from Portsmouth Water customers in winter months, the surplus is allowed to flow out to sea.
Rather than losing water to the ocean, Havant Thicket will capture and store the water from Bedhampton springs in Havant.
The reservoir will maintain the already good supply that Portsmouth Water enjoys and be used by Southern Water, allowing them to reduce their dependency on the River Test and River Itchen.
Such a major collaboration and pooling of resources between two water companies to develop a significant supply asset has never been done before in the UK.
The two companies formally ratified their partnership with the signing of an 80-year bulk supply agreement, whereby Portsmouth Water agree to supply 21 million litres per day to Southern Water.
Six water companies in total were involved in the planning for Havant Thicket as part of the Water Resources South East (WRSE) group regional strategy, set up to strengthen planning and management of water assets.
It sets a precedent for how the industry might work more cohesively in the future. Already it is being considered whether Havant Thicket’s reserves might stretch beyond Portsmouth and Southern Water via pipelines towards the west and north of Hampshire.
Anglian Water have embarked on a similar scheme with the construction of a 310-mile pipeline. The pipeline will move surplus supplies from Lincolnshire down to Essex, which is also under serious water stress.
The government has called for more projects like shared reservoirs and pipeline transfers to boost supplies. Along with reducing the amount of water lost through leak repair and encouraging people to use less, it is believed that such schemes will boost resilience, providing a blueprint for the future of water in the UK.