Humankind uses too much, disrupts its natural flow and pollutes it with waste (4.2bn litres of sewage was dumped into the Thames and its tributaries in 2017 by Thames Water). We must also challenge ourselves on how we jointly care for our rivers and natural water systems.

The majority of Oxfordshire’s eight major rivers were classed as having moderate or poor cleanliness in 2016. Urbanisation has stressed natural drainage and added to the flood risk in the area. Some 1.7% of houses in Oxford have been flooded, well above the national average of 0.7 per cent.

A growing population and climate change mean by 2050, we will need to have much more efficient use of our water cycle, otherwise at our current rate in England of using 40 litres per person more than suggested by WaterWise, our usage may outstrip supply. New developments will need to embrace grey water recycling systems and sustainable drainage, along with a range of countywide solutions that naturally assists in flood alleviation.

Wasteful Water Usage

What if…Oxfordshire’s water usage declined so much that the need to increase the capacity of the water networks fell away? What could this look like? Could communities recycle water? Perhaps installing community rainwater collection systems?  

A bit like…
Hydraloop, Netherlands. A Dutch system recycles 85% of household water. The low-energy, filterless system collects water from the shower, bath and washing machine and removes dirt and debris so it can be used in washing machines, toilets and so forth.

Polluted Waterways

What if…We could swim in any one of our rivers and even take an accidental gulp, without worry?  What could this look like? Could the county initiate clean-up missions across our rivers and waterways?

A bit like…
Ocean Clean-up, Netherlands.  The team aims to tackle plastic pollution in the world’s 1000 most polluting rivers by 2025. To do this they have launched The Interceptor, a solar-powered autonomous machine that safely extracts plastic from rivers.

Weakened Natural Defences

What if…The county reinstated natural flood plains and defences?  What could this look like? Could the county collaborate with landowners to rewild areas? Perhaps new developments must integrate an amount of vegetation and water absorption measures?

A bit like…Beaver reintroduction, UK.  Beavers have been reintroduced to parts of Scotland and the Forest of Dean. Known as "habitat engineers", the beavers are improving soil, habitats and water quality. The creatures’ dams are also a natural buffer to floods.

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