AN ENVIRONMENTAL group has criticised plans to downgrade a river’s status at a time when it needs protection to ensure it does not dry up.

The Environment Agency is considering downgrading the status of the River Chess, which runs through Chesham, from the most serious status of ‘over-abstracted’ to ‘over-licensed’.

Chairman of the River Chess Association Paul Jennings said: “This would be a backward step for the Chess and would make tackling low flows in the river even more challenging.

“The Chess needs more protection and action to improve the flows not less.

“In their [EA] view, abstraction has little or no impact on the flows in the Chess, which I find very difficult to believe, but if they do have some robust evidence I’ll listen to it.”

District Councillor Peter Hudson, who represents the area, said at the meeting: “I’m surprised and extremely concerned. Anyone that knows the Chess can see the consequences of over-abstraction on a daily basis and we must lobby the Environment Agency to change their mind on this and in fact do more to protect our precious river.”

River Chess campaigners have urged readers to do more to save water after it was revealed people living in the area Affinity Water provides for, including the Chilterns, use the most water in the country.

On average between 162 and 182 litres of water is used in the area per day per person, which is above the government’s target of 130 litres. Affinity Water currently has to import water to meet the demand.

Mr Jennings said: “There’s a saying that affluence brings effluence. The more wealthy you are the more things you have that require water. I think if you made water metering mandatory you’d see a usage reduction of about 10 per cent.

“People must make the effort to reduce how much water they use. If people are successful in reducing their usage we want that to be matched by Affinity by a reduction in abstraction.”

Spokeswoman for EA Jo Slimin said: “No decision has yet been made. We’re still carrying out investigations to understand flows in the River Chess. We will be discussing these issues with the River Chess Association in due course.”