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Massive geotechnical works needed for Britain's biggest fully embanked reservoir

PLANS FOR a £1bn reservoir in Oxfordshire that will cater for London's future water needs were unveiled last month.

The proposed Upper Thames Reservoir to be built near Abingdon would require massive geotechnical works. Detailed technical information for this will be unveiled by Thames Water and its consultants at the Institution of Civil Engineers in January.

This will include geotechnical details of the preferred scheme worked up by consultant Geotechnical Consulting Group.

'Climate change, increasing population and changes in lifestyles are putting the region's water resources under pressure, ' said Thames Water's environmental director Richard Aylard, explaining the need for the new reservoir. 'The population of London is expected to increase to more than 800,000 over the next decade but our summers are likely to get hotter and drier.'

The Abingdon site - chosen ahead of 55 other potentials in the region - would cover 10km 2 and hold an estimated 150M. m 3 of water. This would create Britain's largest fully embanked reservoir and the biggest to be built for 25 years.

Consultants have spent three years looking at geology, proximity to rivers and size. The chosen site has to avoid areas of permeable bedrock and Sites of Special Scientic Interest. Thames Water has started holding a series of road shows to explain the plans to local residents.

An environmental impact assessment should complete by mid-2008, and then a public inquiry is likely between 2008 and 2010. Construction is expected to start by 2011 with the reservoir fully operational by 2020.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said the reservoir plan would have a 'massive and largely detrimental effect' on the area. It questioned whether Thames Water, the government, local authorities and businesses were doing enough to reduce water use.

Thames Water pledged to carry on repairing the leaks to its existing pipe network that is haemorrhaging an estimated 900M. l a day. But it claimed that the new reservoir, which would pipe 280M. l of water a day to London and 60M. l to Swindon and Oxfordshire, would also be needed.

Meanwhile, an alternative solution to supply London's water needs by piping in water from existing reservoirs such as in the north Pennines has been rejected by the Environment Agency (EA). The EA's study into the feasibility of a 'National Water Grid', which would transfer water between different regions, found that the proposal would be four times more expensive to implement than building new reservoirs.

'We think water companies can meet future water demand over the next 25 years without the need for a national water grid, ' said EA chief executive Paul Leinster.

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