Scotland surpasses water targets

Scotland is set to sail past its targets on improving the water quality of its rivers, estuaries and coastline, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has said.

In order to meet its targets, SEPA must reduce the length of rivers and streams classed as poor quality by 351km by 2006. By the end of 2005, it had already achieved a reduction of 393km.

Although this is a 34% decrease on the level of pollution in 1999, 776km, or 3%, of Scottish rivers and streams are still classed poor or seriously polluted.

On estuaries, it has reduced the areas classed as poor water quality by 10.6km2, against a target of 6.5km2, the agency said.

Only 0.02% of Scotland’s estuaries are now classed as seriously polluted, and a further 2.7% are classed as unsatisfactory.

And SEPA has cut the length of coastal water rated as seriously polluted by 209km, against a target of 145km. This leaves only 11.2km, or 0.09% of coastline rated as seriously polluted, and 101.6km, or 0.9%, as unsatisfactory.

SEPA’s head of environmental quality, Dr Tom Leatherland, said: “It’s very rewarding to see these significant improvements in water quality across Scotland. They’re the result of carefully targeted investments, and the continuing efforts to reduce diffuse pollution from agricultural activities, now showing positive results.”

But he admitted that the agency still has its work cut out for it. “There’s a need for further improvements as indicated by the long list of future investment requirements. There are many sources of both urban and rural diffuse pollution which still need to be minimised.”

Helen Lennox, a spokesperson from the country’s only water company, Scottish Water, also welcomed the announcement. She said: “This report is great news for Scotland’s water environment. It clearly demonstrates the investment and improvements delivered since 2002 are making a positive impact across Scotland.

“Between 2002 and 2006, we have spent more than £1.8 billion to start the process of delivering a first-class water industry for Scotland. However, this is just the beginning and over the next four years a further £2.4 billion will be ploughed into continuing this transformation, including more environmental improvements.”

SEPA may have met its own targets, but further intervention will be needed to meet the requirements of new EU legislation on water quality, Dr Leatherland said.

When the EU Water Framework Directive comes into force, member states will be expected to achieve a “default target” of good water quality, not just eliminate pollution, the agency warned.

Gretchen Hendriks

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