Pioneering project 'saves hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fresh water being lost to sea'

Felixstowe Hydrocycle at the Kingsfleet

The pioneering Felixstowe Hydrocycle project involves fresh water being pumped back to farm reservoirs rather than out to sea - Credit: Sarah Attmere

Precious fresh water which would otherwise be pumped out to sea is now being saved - thanks to a pioneering Suffolk scheme.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of drainage water which fills land near the River Deben estuary is pumped away in a process which can damage the local saltmarsh and mudflats ecosystem near Felixstowe.

This is despite East Anglia being the driest region of the country - and demand for water growing for both growing food and for industry as well for for households.

But this water is now being carefully pumped inland to help irrigate farmland. In the future, it could potentially also be used in the public water supply.

The project is being led locally by Suffolk County Council, farmer-owned Felixstowe Hydrocycle Ltd, the Environment Agency and University of East Anglia and was supported by a £853,000 European Union grant.

John Patrick, managing director of Felixstowe Hydrocycle Ltd,  said the company - which was formed by local farmers in 2018 - set out to find a more sustainable way of getting water to use onto farmland as pressure on supplies increased.

"Agriculture has a huge demand for water, particularly in this part of the world, and if water continues to be taken from existing sources, we could see a shortfall in supply within just six years," he explained.

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“So we have helped develop and install a new pipeline, pumping and storage system, which stops that drainage water damaging local habitats, stops that water being wasted and puts it to good use.

"We’re extremely proud to be a local business working on a project which is taking place on our doorstep, and that has the potential to positively impact water management across East Anglia and Europe, by making it more sustainable.”

Drainage water is pumped from the Kingsfleet near Felixstowe and travels along 12km of carefully plotted pipeline to local farms where it is stored in existing reservoirs ready for irrigation. 

Suffolk County Council cabinet member Richard Rout, who holds the environment brief, said the project was an example of the council’s ambition to respond to the climate emergency it declared in March 2019.

“There is a contradiction that we drain this water off our land out into the sea, while we experience both droughts and floods.

"I’m proud that we are pioneering innovative projects like this in Suffolk, which will make water supplies more sustainable, while also protecting our natural environment. This is part of the council’s Holistic Water Management Project, which I hope inspires other authorities to follow our lead.”

The EU-funded Felixstowe scheme is one of  four being trialled across Europe and overseen by FRESH4Cs, a cooperation project between 10 UK, Belgian and Dutch partners. FRESH4Cs has received funding from the Interreg 2 Seas programme 2014-2020 co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Bastiaan Notebaert, water innovator at the Belgian organisation, Vlawka, and FRESH4Cs lead partner, said: “This project has the potential to change the way we use our freshwater supplies and will particularly benefit farmers and their communities.

"We aim to provide sustainable fresh water supplies to coastal areas across Europe by trialling schemes, such as this one in Felixstowe. I’d like to thank all the partners in Suffolk for embracing this innovation and being part of something ground-breaking for our natural environment and for future generations.”

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