Bewl Water celebrates its 50th anniversary

The Bewl Water towers under construction

Southern Water officials marked Bewl Water reservoir’s 50th anniversary last week (October 25) at a press event, paying tribute to its history and impressive engineering. The reservoir is southeast England’s largest span of open water and has the capacity to supply up to 150 litres of water a day for nearly 200 million people. It is situated in Lamberhurst, straddling the border of Kent and East Sussex.

The occasion marked the commencement of the man-made reservoir’s history, with the ambitious Bewl Valley project taking form in 1973 after securing Royal Assent from Queen Elizabeth II through the Medway Water Act. It was a response to the increasing water demands of growing towns, including Medway, Thanet, and Hastings. Upon completion, the valley was transformed into an 800-acre reservoir, accommodating a staggering 31,000 million litres of water, equivalent to stacking six London buses on top of one another.

It boasts a 30-metre-high and 1,800-metre-long dam, constructed by excavating clay from the grounds to dam the valley. The venture came with an £11million price tag and required two years to complete. Graham Setterfield, who served as the Deputy on-site Engineer in 1973, reminisced about the project’s early days. He said: “I remember back then during the summer you could jump over the river Bewl. I was 26 years old when I started working with a team of around 20 designers, technicians, and inspectors, all having backgrounds in civil engineering or similar.”

Graham recalls: “It was a three-year construction project for us and during the summer months the working day was about 18 hours, seven days a week. There was a lot of local interest from the community. We built a viewing car park for residents and visitors to watch our progress.” Southern Water and South East Water, who work in partnership, currently use the reservoir to service customers in East Sussex and Kent and replenish the Medway.

Ashley Marshman, Head of Operational Customer Service at Southern Water said, “We’re delighted to be here today marking the 50th anniversary of Bewl Water. It was a major engineering feat to build such a much-loved and integral reservoir. It is a testament to the success of the forward-thinking of the time and it is a vital part of our water resources plan for the area of Kent and East Sussex.”

Nick Bell, South East Water’s Head of Operations for Kent said: “Bewl Water reservoir is a vital part of our future for water resources, and we are pleased to work in a successful partnership with Southern Water. It is also a much-loved amenity for the communities we serve, and we are proud to be part of that aspect too.”

Today, the grounds are leased to leisure company Bewl Water, which runs healthy outdoor activities on and off the reservoir.

The site is popular amongst families, fitness lovers and wildlife spotters. Kevin Parker, Senior Operations Manager added: “As the occupier of Bewl Water, our responsibility is to protect its unique features. We base all our actions on the principles of conservation and sustainability and maintain a close partnership with Southern Water. With a history spanning five decades, our commitment is to preserve this remarkable landscape for the next 50 years, ensuring it remains accessible to both locals and tourists while serving as a crucial habitat for wildlife.”

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