IT is one of Europe’s most renowned fishing locations.

The River Itchen is one of only five chalk stream habitats in the UK that still contains wild Atlantic salmon and it is widely regarded as one of the best in the world.

Its waters have even attracted famous anglers, including former US presidents George Bush Snr and Jimmy Carter, to cast their rods on Hampshire’s riverbanks.

And now the future of the river is set to be given new long-term protection, after Southern Water revealed a major £50m plan to secure water supplies across the county.

Under new European law, which was announced back in 2008, the company must reduce the amount of water it abstracts from the Itchen, after it was named as a Special Area of Conservation.

The strict regulations, which come into force in 2015, will put a cap on the amount of water the firm can take from the river between June and September, with a complete ban on abstracting from the site during exceptionally dry summers, because of the damage the process causes to the river’s unique ecology.

And after four years of intense research and planning, bosses at Southern Water have come up with a multi-million-pound solution, which will link the Testwood Water Supply Works in Totton to its sister site in Otterbourne.

The two locations will be joined by an 11.5-mile underground pipeline, passing underneath the M27 and M3 motorways, while the Testwood Water Supply Works will also be given its first major overhaul since opening its doors almost 50 years ago.

The ambitious proposals will allow water chiefs to abstract up to 136 million litres of water a day from the River Test, with the ability to transport a third of that directly to Otterbourne, to make up for the reduced output from the Itchen.

It is estimated the construction of the new line will take about 18 months to complete, with bosses at Southern Water hoping to gain planning permission and start work on the scheme early next year.

The blueprint, which has already been agreed by the Department for environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), was described by Southern Water chiefs as the “final piece of the jigsaw”, in their bid to safeguard Hampshire’s water supply for the next 25 years.

It comes after the rolling out of water meters across the county to reduce the household demand for water, as well as ongoing work to tackle leakage in the network.

Other options, including pumping more recycled sewage back into the water and building reservoirs, had been investigated as potential solutions. But Meyrick Gough, Southern Water’s water quality and strategy manager, said the £50m pipeline would be the “most costeffective”

choice for residents.

Mr Gough said: “This has been four years in the making, since the whole idea about reducing abstraction on the Itchen first came up.

“We built that into our water resource management plan and we talked about potential solutions around this. That highlighted the three proposals of metering, the changes at Testwood and to enhance further leakage reductions.

“Obviously now we need to take this last piece of the jigsaw out to public consultation and then submit a formal plan.

“We are hopeful that will be successful because we have done a lot of work on this. It is the most costeffective option and it will preserve our water supplies for the next 25 years.”

Mr Gough confirmed that Southern Water is now in the process of carrying out environmental investigations along the proposed pipeline route, to ensure that no environmentally sensitive areas are damaged during the construction process, while discussions have also begun with landowners and the highways authority.

And Southern Water chiefs now want to hear residents’ views on the plans, during a series of consultations.

“The whole idea of the consultation process is for us to explain what we are doing and find out the concerns of people, so we can try and find solutions as best we can.

“The key is to make sure we get a good design solution, because what we want to do is do something that is here today, tomorrow, but leaves the right legacy for the future as well.

“For us, it’s not about going from A to B in the straightest, shortest direction. It’s about finding a route that avoids as many things as we can, especially any environmentally sensitive areas.

“I would encourage everyone to take the time out to go to the exhibitions, look at the plans, ask questions and give us their feedback.

“If people get involved and flag up their concerns, we can then do as much as we can to accommodate those concerns.”