Water in review in 2002: making a splash with fines, nitrates, beaches and drinking water

The quality of water at our beaches and coming out of our taps appears to still be increasing, following the publication of a number of studies in 2002. Nitrates are facing tighter controls, and one of the largest ever fines for pollution in the UK was levied on a water utility.


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It appeared in January that water policies were floundering, with the revelation by Environment Minister Michael Meacher that more than one-fifth of water pollution consents exceed agreed limits (see related story). The Government’s proposed marine bill could conflict with its development policies, said Water UK (see related story).

In February, the Environment Agency revealed that there had been a major fall in the number of serious pollution incidents (see related story), but called for an additional £200 million for its flood defence activities (see related story), whilst the new Currie report on the future of farming in the UK was found to also be good for the future of wetlands (see related story). However, sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) – which sometimes include wetlands – were facing a credibility challenge (see related story).

March saw one of the largest ever fines for pollution, levied on Anglian Water (see related story). The Environment Agency revealed that it was not known whether there would be any long-term impacts of 2001’s foot-and-mouth disease outbreak on groundwater, following the burial of carcasses and pyre ash (see related story). It was also found that an artificial female hormone used in the contraceptive pill could be responsible for reducing the fertility of male fish – even giving them female genitalia (see related story). The Environment Agency noted that the situation required serious consideration of changes to sewage treatment technologies (see related story).

Scottish Water, the country’s new water utility, took over the running of Scotland’s water on 1st April (see related story). In the same month it was revealed that 85% of Scottish beaches were passing the European mandatory levels for cleanliness (see related story), and Wales announced that it would be designating an additional 24 bathing areas as ‘sensitive’, requiring all significant discharges to be treated to greater than secondary treatment standards (see related story). For those wanting to know whether water is polluted, engineers at Cardiff University invented an electronic tongue to taste it (see related story).

The good news for the condition of beaches continued in May, with the publication of the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Beach Guide, which recommended 341 beaches, 66 more than in 2001 (see related story). The Government outlined its plans for marine conservation, including a pilot conservation programme in the Irish Sea (see related story). The Environment Agency tightened its rules on discharges to water courses (see related story), and British companies were urged to find their niche in the South African water services (see related story).

In June, the Government announced that an additional 47% of England would be designated as ‘nitrate sensitive’, requiring tighter controls by farmers on their discharges to water courses (see related story). The controls came into force in December (see related story).

The standard of drinking water in England and Wales was better than ever in July, the Drinking Water Inspectorate revealed in its latest annual report (see related story).

Toilets were under attack in August. The Environment Agency called for a change in regulations covering dual flush lavatories, following a study by Southern Water that found that replacing single flush with dual flush cisterns could save 27% of households’ water (see related story).

In October, BP was fined £60,000 for allowing thousands of litres of fuel to leak from underground storage tanks (see related story). Despite this, urban rivers were having a renaissance, 95% being of good or fair quality (see related story). It was also a good month for technology, through the use of bran to filter arsenic (see related story), an organic glow being used to trace pollution (see related story), and the possibility that biosolids could have a sustainable future (see related story).

New technology revelations continued into November, with scientists attempting to use wind power to make rain in desert areas (see related story), and researchers used the power of the sun to treat water containing persistant pollutants (see related story). Waste materials were also being tested for their ability to remove iron from mine wastewater (see related story).

In December, the water industry warned that the cost of transposing Europe’s latest regulations could be as much as £16 billion (see related story). It was also revealed that Scotland had joined England and Wales in having a good standard for its drinking water, with 99.3% of samples passing tests (see related story).

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