Poor water quality in rivers a result of chronic underinvestment, says Government Report

Environmental Audit Committee issues damning report on the state of English rivers

A report published by the Environmental Audit Committee suggests the ‘Chemical cocktail’ of sewage, slurry and plastic polluting rivers in England is putting at risk both public health and nature.

The Committee warns that poor river quality is a result of chronic under-investment and multiple failures in monitoring, governance and enforcement.

According to the report “Only 14% of English rivers meet good ecological status, with pollution from agriculture, sewage, roads and single-use plastics contributing to a dangerous ‘chemical cocktail’ coursing through our waterways. Not a single river in England has received a clean bill of health for chemical contamination.”

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:

“Rivers are the arteries of nature and must be protected. Our inquiry has uncovered multiple failures in the monitoring, governance and enforcement on water quality. For too long, the Government, regulators and the water industry have allowed a Victorian sewerage system to buckle under increasing pressure.

“Today, we are calling for these relevant bodies to come together and develop a system fit for the future. Monitoring regimes need to be reviewed, enforcement needs to be ramped up, and even public awareness needs boosting on what can and cannot be poured down drains or flushed down the toilet. So many emerging pollutants are being missed by inadequate and insufficient monitoring, and court actions against polluters have fallen dramatically.

“To deliver real change and improve the state of our rivers, a wide range of stakeholders must come together including the Government, regulators and water companies. The Environment Act signalled the first welcome sign of political will to tackle this issue. I hope this marks the start of Government regulatory and polluter action to improve the state of our rivers for all to enjoy.”

The Committee calls for a step change in regulatory action, water company investment, and cross-catchment collaboration to restore rivers to good ecological health, protect biodiversity and adapt to a changing climate. MPs are demanding far more assertive regulation and enforcement from Ofwat and the Environment Agency.

The report recommends that:

  • Ofwat examine the powers it may have to limit the payment of bonuses to water company executives until widespread permit breaches cease.
  • Citizen science must be supported and recognised by regulators
  • The Environment Agency should consider creating an online platform where citizen scientists can upload their data on water quality.
  • Newly-established Office for Environmental Protection should use the powers it has been granted by Parliament to drive improvements in the regulatory and enforcement regimes which govern the state of England’s rivers.

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