WATER shortages could hit Sussex in just ten years, Southern Water says.

The firm predicts a third of its water sources could be lost within 25 years because of climate change.

Meanwhile the population of the south east is expected to balloon by 15 per cent in that period.

Now climate coalition The Aquifer Partnership has launched a £500,000 project to protect the South Downs’ chalk rocks from increasing pollution.

“We know the challenge of climate change will require considerable innovation and no single organisation can tackle it alone,” said South Downs National Park Authority chief Trevor Beattie.

“From towns to Downs we all rely on it – now, next year, in the next decade and in the next century.

“Now marks the start of an ambitious programme that will put the Brighton aquifer well and truly on the map as a vital natural resource.”

The programme aims to tackle the rising amount of nitrate pollutants affecting the Downs’ water supply.

More than 70 per cent of Southern Water’s groundwater sources in the Brighton area have rising nitrate level, meaning they must be treated by the company.

Rising nitrate levels can be a result of fertilisers leaching into the ground and run-off from roads.

So The Aquifer Partnership will create “rainscape” projects which use plants to collect pollutants from roads and naturally cleanse water before it goes into ground.

It will also urge farmers to use cover crops, plants designed to cover soil to soak up nitrates and improve soil quality.

Environment Agency engagement manager Catherine Fuller said the partnership would provide clean and plentiful water for Sussex.

“Currently too many polluting substances like nitrates are present in our aquifers,” she said.

“The same aquifers supply the public with drinking water, feed our streams and rivers and help shape our landscape.”

“The Aquifer is a hidden treasure and we’re lucky that we can rely on it for our water supply,” said Brighton and Hove City Council environment chief Anne Pissaridou.

“It performs an important and often unrecognised service for the city.”

The Aquifer Partnership is made up of Southern Water, Brighton and Hove City Council, the South Downs National Park Authority, and the Environment Agency.