The Environment Agency has cautioned against endangering rivers and natural habitats by providing water to thousands of new homes in the UK's driest region. This is the first time it has raised objections to housing developments because of water issues. Which dangers exist?
The south of Cambridgeshire, where all of the planned homes are located, may see the construction of more than 50,000 new homes by the year 2041, though some may now be built more slowly.
Five planning applications, including at least 4,425 homes, have drawn the attention of the Environment Agency.
Among them are plans to construct 3,000 homes on Bourn Airfield and another 1,000 on Darwin Green on the outskirts of Cambridge.
According to the Environment Agency, taking more water from natural reserves "poses a real risk to chalk streams, river, and wetland habitats" and is a "precious resource that is under pressure across the country.".
"We have objected to some proposed development applications in the Greater Cambridge area on the grounds that the water supply for these developments will pose a serious threat to our local water environment," it continued. ".
The East of England is the driest region in the UK, and a drought warning was issued there ten months ago.
The majority of the water used in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire is pumped from an underground chalk aquifer before being delivered to homes and businesses.
Cambridge Water, the local water provider, stated that it was "working hard to reduce water demand in the region" and "focusing on reducing leakage across our network.".
In an effort to lower demand, the company claimed to have "resilient, long-term" plans to increase supplies.
The company is supporting plans for a new reservoir in the Cambridgeshire Fens that could be finished in the mid- to late 2030s in order to increase supplies. It also hopes to transfer water from nearby Anglian Water.
The Environment Agency also criticized the firm's draft water resources management plan in a statement to a planning inquiry into a project that would include 425 homes close to Cambridge North Station.
The agency is still "very concerned" that the plan "will not deliver the reductions in demand stated in the plan," according to the statement.
The "deliverability" of the water transfer plans and the proposed Fens reservoir was also brought up as a potential concern.
"The security of the supply and the environment are both put at unacceptable risk by this. ".
To protect the region's rare chalk streams, Cambridge Water said it was "working closely with the Environment Agency" to increase supplies while lowering the amount of water being drawn from aquifers below the ground.
"We have no doubt that we can accomplish this with a dependable, long-term solution. ".
The project's developer, Brookgate, claimed that the development it was proposing would be "highly sustainable" and surpass water efficiency standards.
The new homes Countryside is putting forward for Bourn Airfield will be constructed to "high standards of water conservation," according to the home builder.
Plans for new homes in the South Cambridgeshire constituency were dubbed "reckless" by the local Conservative MP.
There is "no prospect of building 50,000 homes in this area," Anthony Browne said in reference to the potential number of homes that could be constructed throughout South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge.
"The issue is that we have a really rapid rate of house building in one of the driest parts of the country and we've just run out of water," he continued.
The district council needs to rethink how it can have a local plan that actually fits in with the reality of the environmental situation. " .
The water consumption requirements for new homes may be reduced from 110 liters per person per day to 80 liters by South Cambridgeshire District Council.
Some housing plans may need to be "slowed down," but the growth in the area "is down to market forces," according to councillor Tumi Hawkins, a Lib Dem who oversees planning for the authority.
'We can't stop that. Our goal should be to manage it sustainably, she said.
"We will consider each case on its own merit and collaborate with suppliers, such as Cambridge Water and Anglian Water, but we also need to manage the growth as effectively as possible.
We need to strike a balance, she said. ".
An Environment Agency report states that the underground water sources Cambridge Water relies on are in "poor" condition, which means they are unable to supply enough water to sustain the water bodies that depend on them.
According to the document, pumping water from these underground sources has put "ecological pressure" on Cambridgeshire's River Granta and some of the River Cam.
The river is "vibrant" but "very vulnerable," according to 48-year-old Helen Brookes of Linton Friends of the River Granta.
According to her, it provides habitat for kingfishers, brown trout, and mayfly larvae.
"Rivers like this dry up if too much is taken out. The result is that.
"Everything suffers" if the river dries up, she continued. "If the fish don't have anything to eat, it goes further up the food chain and everything suffers."