According to stats published by the Environment Agency, there have been improvements in a significant number of rivers over the past year, with more than ever achieving the top ranks of very good or good.

The agency’s General Quality Assessment is carried out every year and looks at level of chemicals and also the state of wildlife and plants in the river systems.

95% of Welsh rivers can now boast water of good or better chemical quality, compared with 86% in 1990.

In the more heavily industrialized and densely populated England those figures are 76% and 55%.

The biological quality of rivers also continued to improve, with 72% of rivers in England and 87% of those in Wales, achieving good or better status last year, up from 55% and 79% respectively in 1990.

Paul Leinster, the Environment Agency’s acting chief executive, said: “Water quality in England and Wales has improved dramatically over the last 20 years.

“The Water Framework Directive gives us new ways of measuring the health and quality of water and improving our understanding of the water environment as well as the health of associated animals and plants.

“None of the previous major improvements in water quality have been lost. The new classifications enable us to take more targeted action to improve water quality further.”

Improvements in water quality have also been due to the substantial investment made by water companies in addition to work carried out by the Environment Agency and others.

Through its involvement in Ofwat’s current Periodic Review of water charges, the Environment Agency will seek to ensure that such investment continues so that water quality continues to improve to meet future challenges such as those posed by climate change.

The water companies submitted draft business plans for 2010-2015 in August and the Environment Agency will be publishing its response to these in early October.

Under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), water quality assessments are being published using a new, tougher methodology for the first time this year. In addition to rivers, the WFD also applies to lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater, not previously included in GQA results.

Sam Bond

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