Sutton’s growing reputation for being an environmental disaster area has just got even worse after allowing one of the area’s beauty spots, Carshalton Ponds, to be drained of water right in the middle of the waterfowl breeding season.
The move has left ducks, geese and other wildfowl high and dry, just as they are nurturing eggs and newly hatched chicks, and has managed to kill off dozens of fish and other wildlife that depended on the ponds.
Worried Carshalton residents first sounded the alarm about falling water levels at the weekend.
Sutton and East Surrey Water said that their company is under licence to keep the River Wandle flowing to sustain wildlife living in, or near the river, and so had diverted the water flow from the pond. With some cracks around the pond edges also causing leakages, Sutton Council was to carry out repair work this week while the ponds were drained.
But the belated explanation did not placate angry residents, who had been annoyed that no one from the water company nor the council had bothered to inform them of the works, nor had considered the area’s resident wildlife at one of the most sensitive times of the annual cycle.
“I can’t understand why they are carrying out maintenance during the bird nesting season,” said Tim Crowley, the leader of the Conservative opposition at Sutton’s LibDem-run council.
Crowley discovered that it was the LibDem-run council which “ordered the pumps to be turned off without making any provision to protect the fish or wild fowl who live in the ponds”.
Crowley singled out Carshalton councillor Jill Whitehead, who is also chair of the environment committee. “When did she first know about this disastrous plan?” Crowley asked.
“Why weren’t residents informed and plans made for the wildlife? And can we all make sure she is prevented from doing this again?
“Carshalton Ponds are one of the best thing about our area. We must act to stop the LibDems doing any more damage to our precious heritage.
“Council officers were tetchy about it two weeks ago when I mentioned there were concerns over the lowering of water levels in Beddington Park. I was assured this would not happen. Now it has happened to the ponds in Carshalton too.
“I would like to say a huge thank you to all those who came out and helped with the birds on Sunday and this undoubtedly made a terrible situation better,” Crowley said.
Perhaps it was because Westminster was already on its Easter break, but it took four days before local MP Tom Brake swung into “action”, which took the form of his posting a statement on his Facebook page after meeting SESWater officials at the Ponds.
Helpfully, Brake confirmed that it was indeed his LibDem colleagues at Sutton Council who were responsible.
“It is the Council’s responsibility to repair the Ponds’ walls…”, Brake wrote, explaining when the repair work would get underway – which was not until Wednesday, nearly a week after the water levels had started to cause distress to the wildlife.
“Once the repairs are complete,” Brake wrote, “Sutton and East Surrey will re-supply the Ponds and, providing there are no further leakages, they will continue to pump a substantial volume of water into the Ponds: more than 1 million litres a day.
“I will be seeking a meeting with Sutton Council to clarify what long-term action can be taken to ensure the Ponds remain watertight in the future.”
And with local television news cameras at the Ponds today, Brake made sure he was on hand to grab a little bit of airtime all for himself.
This week, SESWater offered a more detailed explanation.
“We aim to continue providing a reliable and sufficient supply of safe, high-quality drinking water,” they posted on their website with a helpful flow diagram of the area.
“To ensure our customers in the Carshalton and Sutton areas are kept supplied with water, we have a licence with the Environment Agency to extract water from the North Downs chalk aquifer. The chalk geology of the North Downs is also a primary source of the River Wandle. Part of our licence agreement with the Environment Agency is that we ensure there is enough water in the River Wandle to sustain the many species of insects, birds and fish in the river which need flowing water.
“When the aquifer is low and the springs are not flowing, we turn on an artificial recirculation system which pumps water from the Wandle – just north of Goat Bridge – up to Carshalton Ponds, which then replenishes the Carshalton arm of the river. Without this system, the Carshalton arm of the Wandle would be dry for much of the year.
“The last six months of 2016 were very dry with only two-thirds of the long-term average rainfall being received. This means the groundwater levels are currently low for this time of year which has been a major cause of the Carshalton ponds becoming drier in recent weeks. There are also some cracks in the edges and bottom of the ponds, which means that when we pump water into the ponds, it seeps back into the ground before it can get out of the lower pond and flow down the Wandle…”.
What SESWater, Tom Brake nor Sutton Council have managed to explain, though, is the choice of timing of the repairs, which seems especially insensitive, with water levels already low after so little rainfall over the winter and early spring, and when ducklings, goslings and other chicks so dependent on the Ponds.
With Sutton LibDems this week also having to deal for the first time with the environmental consequences of having Veolia as their domestic rubbish collectors, while still backing the building of the Beddington incinerator, there are many suggesting that the Carshalton Ponds disaster won’t be the last time something smelling very fishy will be noticed at Sutton Council.
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