DESALINATION plants could be rapidly built at Polkerris and at Par Beach this summer as South West Water strives to cope with the effects of drought on Cornwall’s water supply. 

The utility company said it was currently carrying out assessments of the sites and working closely with the local authority and Environment Agency to progress the schemes as soon as possible. 

SWW has not publicly announced the locations of potential plants, but brief reference is made to the projects within the company’s Water Resource Management Plan. 

In its document “Insights into the 2022 Drought”, the company says: “Desalination schemes at Par and Polkerris have been developed in recent months as a specific response to the drought. The schemes provide significant volumes of water to support the recharge of Colliford Reservoir. Whilst these options have potentially higher financial and carbon costs than some of the other options being considered, there is a strong confidence that they can deliver the required volume of water within the required timeframe. 

“These options also have relatively low ecosystem impacts as they do not reduce river/ reservoir levels.” 

In a statement to the Cornish Times, a South West Water spokesperson said: “We have found two potential sites for desalination in Cornwall where we are currently running detailed suitability assessments. As part of the process, we are looking at working with potential suppliers and will be able to share dates of our next phase when this is complete. 

“We are working closely with the Environment Agency and Cornwall Council to get work started as early as possible. Meanwhile, we have recently launched our Save Every Drop campaign urging customers and visitors to the region to reduce their water consumption wherever possible.” 

Tywardreath and Par Parish Council and Fowey Town Council (within whose boundary Polkerris sits) said that they had not been approached at all about the proposed desalination schemes, either by South West Water or Cornwall Council. 

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “The proposed desalination schemes may require permits and licences to discharge and abstract water. All applications for new licences and permits are assessed in line with our strict policies and process to ensure that they have no adverse impacts on the environment. 

“The timeframes for the permitting and licencing process depends on the complexity of the scheme.  

“We have been working with the Cornwall Council planning team to ensure we are kept up to date with pre-planning conversation.” 

Cornwall Council did not release any details of discussions with South West Water, but said that once any planning application were received, it would be subject to consultation in the normal way. 

SWW drought and resilience director David Harris has said that with 800-miles of coastline, it’s logical that Cornwall should look to glean drinking water from the sea: desalination could provide 60 million litres each day, more than a third of the county’s requirements. SWW already has a desalination plant on the Isles of Scilly which it intends to expand. 

The coastal desalination plants are one element of a wide-ranging raft of measures that South West Water plans in order to sustain reliable water supply for residents of the region into the future. Both the supply and demand side of the issue present challenges, says the company: spikes in extreme heat have led the company to assess the impacts of climate change and adapt its planning, while an increase in consumption due to tourism, and more people in the region working from home, is also forecast. Looking ahead to the coming 25 years, SWW says: “We have a major role to ensure that we can maintain a sustainable and resilient water supply, that is affordable; is shaped by our customers and stakeholders’ views; and which delivers a positive benefit to society and the environment. 

“We need to invest and adapt to meet these future challenges and deliver against our priorities. These challenges impact the volume of water we have available to use to meet a growing population and demand for water.” 

Also among the proposals being taken forward across the region are a possible new reservoir at Cheddar, and in Cornwall: plans to take water from the River Camel; increasing the permitted amounts of water that can be taken from existing resources; and improving the network to allow better transfer of water resource from place to place. 

South West Water says it’s also committed to significantly reducing leakages in the system. The company will continue to encourage the public to conserve water through educational campaigns, through the use of water-saving techniques and devices, and will employ restrictions such as hosepipe bans when needed.