Sewage, slurry and plastic polluting English rivers puts public health and nature at risk, says committee

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Poor water quality in English rivers is a result of ‘chronic underinvestment and multiple failures in monitoring, governance and enforcement’, the Environmental Audit Committee warns.

According to the committee, 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 waterways.

The committee also states that not a single river in England has received a clean bill of health for chemical contamination.

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Philip Dunne, commented: “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.”

According to the committee, budget cuts to the Environment Agency have hampered the ability to monitor water quality in rivers and detect permit breaches or pollution incidents from the water industry and farming.

River quality monitoring does not routinely identify microplastics, persistent chemical pollutants or anti-microbial resistant pathogens flowing through rivers.

The committee’s ‘Water quality in rivers’-report recommends that the Environment Agency work with water companies to ensure that easily accessible information on sewage discharges, in as near to real time as possible, is made publicly available.

The MPs are also calling on the Government actively to encourage the designation of at least one widely used stretch of river for bathing in each water company area by 2025.

The ‘Water quality in rivers’-report is available on the UK Parliament website.