Curat is the Cam Upper Reaches Action Team. This is a newly-formed group of volunteers concerned about the continuing decline in the condition of the river Cam, especially where it flows through north Essex into Cambridgeshire. Along this stretch are the villages of Newport, Wendens Ambo, Littlebury, Little Chesterford, Great Chesterford, Ickleton, Hinxton and Duxford.
A long-standing problem of over abstraction from the Chalk aquifer is robbing the river of sufficient flow. Pollutants are not being diluted and washed away fast enough and biodiversity is being lost.
During the summer the Cam is completely dry from its historic source east of Widdington to the outflow of the sewage works at Newport. It is not getting the fresh spring water it should have. This is a man-made problem.
For much of the year the only thing keeping the Cam flowing in its upper stretches is recycled outflow from sewage works and topping-up by the Environment Agency using water from the already over-exploited aquifer.
RAINFALL ‘V’ ABSTRACTION
The Cam Valley Forum has done a great deal of work in studying the river network. The Forum reports that for decades Cambridge has had a mean annual rainfall of 56 cm (22 inches) and this has not changed much for the past 60 years. Despite this, the water table beneath Cambridgeshire and north Uttlesford has fallen steadily and the springs feeding the rivers are now regularly depleted. There can be only one conclusion: we are abstracting from the aquifer at a faster rate than it is being replenished by rainfall.
NEW WATER SOURCE?
Like Cambridge, Uttlesford is faced with an imminent and long-term water shortage. If demand for water continues at its current pace a new source of water will be needed. The likely solution – to pipe water here – will require sizeable capital expenditure and may take 20 years or longer.
Volume of water is not the only challenge. Not all water is the same. Chalk filtering makes the water in the Cam alkaline. Water brought here from another area is likely to be acidic, which if it is recycled into the Cam will change the ecology of the river. It will cease to have the unique characteristics of a chalk stream. We have to ensure the water supply company takes account of this challenge.
The name CURAT: a bit of history
A “Curat” is a form of protection. The word is most commonly used to describe the breastplate worn by Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads in the English Civil War. Cromwell’s New Model Army was headquartered in Saffron Walden in 1647, so a name that connects with that period of active protest seems entirely appropriate in our defence of the river Cam. The river has its source just a few miles from Saffron Walden.
In the 17thcentury the river from its source near Debden to Cambridge was called the Granta, only once it reached the city was it called the Cam. Later the name Granta was applied to the tributary that rises near Haverill in Suffolk. There is another tributary, the Rhee, which rises in Ashwell in Herts. Both rivers join what we now know as the Cam south of the City.