ENVIRONMENT chiefs have begun pumping more water into the River Itchen in an attempt to protect against droughts.

Pumps were switched on at Candover Stream, north of Alresford, on Monday (Sept 19) as part of an Environment Agency scheme to boost water levels downstream.

The agency is pumping this water to discover whether it would provide a solution in prolonged dry weather.

Rod Murchie, of the agency, said: “We are working with Southern Water to see if our scheme is part of their solution into providing people with water during times of drought.

He added: “Companies like Southern Water take water out of the Itchen and supply it to people and the Environment Agency licences them to do this.

“But the River Itchen has been recently identified as of crucial importance to wildlife and a special area of conservation. It is now of national and international importance and so it means we will reduce our licences to companies during times of drought so they take less water and do not disturb the ecological system.

“We are not going to shut people off but we will have to reduce the amount of water for Southern Water to supply. This scheme may boost the levels and help them out.”

The scheme was supposed to start on September 8 but was postponed after concerns were raised over threats to a rare native crayfish that is only found in the Candover and Arle valleys, both where the agency has these pumps.

But Mr Murchie said that although there was a risk of causing stress to the crayfish and their environment, it was believed the scheme would not harm them.

He said: “We have decided now that the risk is acceptable after a lot of argument and analysis of samples in our labs.”

The pumps have been used several times before in the past three decades during droughts and will remain working for the next six weeks to discover whether they are a viable solution.