State of water reports submitted to Commission

The Government has submitted a review of the impact of human activity on the status of the water environment, along with an economic analysis of water use, to the European Commission as part of the implementation process of the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

The report identifies the pressures and impacts which present the greatest risk, including diffuse pollution from agriculture, water abstraction, physical modification of rivers and estuaries and invasive non-native plants and animals.

Environment Minister Elliot Morley said the main challenge for the future was to tackle diffuse pollution: "Pollution from individual sources has in the main been successfully tackled. The key challenge is to tackle the widespread, or diffuse, pollution from both agricultural and urban sources and to consider and address the risks posed from physical changes to the banks and beds of rivers, lakes, estuaries and coasts."

He said he was aware of the "cumulative burden" faced by the agricultural industry but that water pollution from agriculture was something that needed to be addressed now, not just to meet WFD objectives but also to reduce economic and environmental costs.

"No policy options for tackling diffuse water pollution from agriculture have been ruled out and we continue to work with stakeholders to develop an effective package of measures and will consult on this in the next 18 months," he said. "My Department is already working with farmers to encourage improvements on the ground in order to address the problem and we will be using these reports to prioritise this work."

The WFD requires Member States to achieve good ecological and chemical status in water courses. Judging by the reports submitted this week, Britain's watercourses have a long way to go.

Of the 253 protected areas (Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas), dependent on water and containing some of the best quality rivers, only 4% are deemed not to be at risk, 60% are probably at risk, and 36% are at risk of failing to meet their conservation objectives by 2015.

In the Anglian River Basin District, over 94% of rivers are at risk from diffuse pollution. Similarly, in Scotland, 47% of rivers and 62% of lochs are suffering from human activity and are at risk of failing to achieve good status.

James Marsden, Head of Policy at English Nature said: "Progress is now urgently needed to tackle diffuse pollution and other pressures on aquatic SSSIs, in order to reach the government's Public Service Agreement target of bringing 95% of SSSIs into favourable condition by 2010."

On a European scale initial estimates show that 92.7% of rivers, 84% of lakes, 98.5% of coastal waters and 75.3% of groundwater are at risk of failing to achieve the standards needed for the WFD.

By David Hopkins



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