Government announces that UK river quality breaks new record

Latest water quality tests have revealed that rivers and canals across the United Kingdom are cleaner than they have been since before the industrial revolution.

The Environment Agency (EA) survey published on 21 September shows that nearly 95% of the total length of rivers and canals in the UK have been classified as having ‘good’ or ‘fair’ chemical quality, which represents an improvement of three percent since 1990, the first year in which fully independent river quality assessment was carried out.

The most significant improvements since 1990 have been in the industrial and urban heartlands of the Midlands and Northern England, where around half of rivers and canals have improved by one grade or more. In all, nearly 17,000km out of a total of 18,645km of rivers and canals in the Agency’s Midlands, North West and North East Regions are now classified as ‘good’ or ‘fair’. This is out of a total of just over 40,000km of rivers and canals in England and Wales as a whole, of which around 37,000km are classified as ‘good’ or ‘fair’ in 1999. The survey also included waterways in Scotland and Northern Ireland in its figures, but an exact breakdown was not available at the time of publishing.

Improvements were largely put down to water industry investment in cleaning up sewage pollution in more heavily populated areas, and a combination of regulation and partnership between the EA and industry generally in tackling pollution sources. A further £7billion will be spent by the agency on further improvements over the next five years.

The EA said that the chemical quality of 42% of river lengths in England and Wales has improved since 1990 and 11% deteriorated, producing a net improvement of 31%. In addition to good and fair ratings, almost 87% of all rivers met their River Quality objectives in 1999 – an improvement of 3% over the past year. The Government has set a target to improve quality further so that 91% will meet their objectives by 2005.

“The billions being invested in cleaning up our rivers are really bearing fruit,” said Environment Minister Michael Meacher. “These are the best ever water quality results and reflect the Government’s firm commitment to delivering a cleaner, better quality environment for everyone to enjoy.”

“We cannot be complacent, however. Around 8% of rivers in England and Wales are still graded ‘poor’ or ‘bad’. Planned investment over the next five years should tackle many of these problems,” EA Chairman Sir John Harman said.

The Agency used a General Quality Assessment scheme to classify river quality into six grades from Grade A (very good) to Grade F (bad). The current results are based on chemical sample results for 1997, 1998 and 1999 and include determinations of biochemical oxygen demand, ammonia, and dissolved oxygen concentrations.

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