Ah! The River Test, premier chalk stream in the world  - so good that  George Bush  Senior,  President HW Bush, with all the  extraordinary  rivers in the USA to choose from,  preferred to fly his private jet over from Texas to Southampton for a week’s upstream dry fly fishing. In the evenings he rested  his weary head at Lainston House and dreamt of fat brown trout yet to be hooked. 

It’s fair to say that much of Hampshire’s  prosperity was built upon the Test and its equally renowned twin, the Itchen which at one stage was navigable from the sea at Southampton’s Woodmill all 25 miles up through Winchester to Alresford.  Many a watermill was powered by the reliable waters flowing south in both rivers. Even today you can buy a bag of flour, stone-ground at the National Trust restored Town Mill in Winchester.

Thanks to prodigious rainfall we now have too much water. However, a week ago hundreds of Winchester householders had not a drop to drink for days. No, it was bottled water for them, kindly supplied by Southern Water who yet again been caught with their trousers down, such has been their cupidity for not preparing for increasingly frequent “flood events”.  For months now, taking your trousers down has been a somewhat fraught exercise in the Bourne Valley.  Thanks to backed up lavatories, householders in the lowest-lying houses have been exercising their bodily functions with some trepidation as rising groundwater inundates a sewer system that’s been inadequate for decades.

All along the Bourne Valley, hundreds are struggling.  For some months in St Mary Bourne and Longparish, Southern Water tankering contractors have been sucking foul water out of sewer manholes and carrying it away to sewage works for treatment.  For a couple of months now in St Mary Bourne we’ve had no fewer than six tankers at any one time running 24/7.  Currently we have two sets of temporary traffic lights, such is the scale of the pumping operation.  Pity the poor householders who have a tanker permanently chugging away outside their property.  It’s much worse in Longparish where they look via Hurstbourne Priors to their superior neighbours in St Mary Bourne as generously adding to their woes.  The same eight-inch pipe carries what the tankers cannot suck up down to Longparish to deal with. Inevitably it’s sparked gallows humour with the good folk of Longparish commenting that they’re having to deal with “Effluent from the affluent.” It’s same the other side of the A303 at Chilbolton where they have Longparish effluent adding to their own homegrown supply.

It appears Southern Water is now giving up on the tankering solution - which is no solution at all.   They are moving on to the euphemistic policy of “over pumping”.  This is code for pumping sewage into the all-purpose natural sewer that is the River Test.  They say that by initially spraying it onto fields and reed beds “Where it will be filtered by nature,” all will be well.   Do they take us for fools?  If nature is so good at dealing with effluent, why do we bother with man-made sewers at all?  After all, for centuries that’s what they did with all rivers including the Thames.  Thanks to public outrage it’s claimed London’s river artery is now so clean salmon have returned.  It should be even better when the Tideway “supersewer” is completed next year.

So how about something similar serving the villages surrounding the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the River Test? The eight-inch sewer installed in 1947 needs replacing with something large enough to accommodate the new housing already built since then and housing to come.  When I moved to St Mary Bourne 14 years ago this was a hot topic.  It still is.  But thanks to Southern Water turpitude our villagers are still going through the motions.