English and Welsh rivers will fail quality standards of framework directive

The ecological quality of Britain's rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters is so bad that many could fail the standards imposed by the EU Water Framework Directive, new figures from the Environment Agency suggest.

The Agency assessments indicate that hundreds of rivers and lakes are seriously polluted by sewage and agricultural chemicals, and that 20% of English and Welsh rivers would fail the WFD standards due to high levels of pesticides.

All EU countries have to submit a stock-take of the health of their rivers, lakes and estuaries to Brussels by 22 March 2005 and the deadline for achieving WFD targets is December 2015.

The RSPB claims that rural economies and recreational opportunities are damaged by poor water quality and that clean up costs are simply passed on to consumers.

Sarah Oppenheimer, Water Policy Officer at the RSPB said: ‘Today’s statistics reveal how pollution, abstraction and habitat destruction have affected the health of rivers, lakes and coasts. Every year customers are paying millions of pounds to remove farm chemicals from drinking water. Instead, we should be preventing pollution in the first place. We must also manage our land and rivers better to reduce the risk of floods, which are likely to increase with climate change.”

The Environment Agency has estimated the cost of reaching the WFD standards by 2015 would be between £6 billion and £12 billion. However, this should be repaid through savings in health, pollution and even flooding costs.

Ms Oppenheimer said that the WFD would protect water supplies and restore wetlands and floodplains for the benefit of wildlife and people. “If we implement it promptly and sensibly, it will also help to reduce clean up costs paid for by water customers,” she added.

By David Hopkins

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