The Environment Agency revealed that it will be deploying state-of-the-art technology to help tackle diffuse pollution from farms and urban areas, and it will be using the Tamar as a trial. This is part of a programme of 8,500 studies the Environment Agency will carry out to help improve the quality of rivers over the next two years.
Improvements in water quality over the last two decades have primarily been achieved through action on pollution from sources such as factories and sewage treatment works (‘point source pollution’).
Last month, the Environment Agency published its annual classification of water quality in rivers in England – revealing they are the cleanest they have been since the industrial revolution. Recent reports have shown that record numbers of otters, salmon and trout are now being found in rivers
The Agency will increasingly focus on pollution from agricultural land, highways and urban areas, which is now the main cause of failing water standards in many areas, but is harder to identify. One way of better understanding this issue is the deployment of new technology in areas of concern.
A pilot study for the new technology will take place on the River Tamar between Devon and Cornwall. A variety of sensors will be placed in the river to automatically sample water quality and send the results back electronically to a central location. New software will allow the sensors to work together as one, providing an instant snapshot of the health of the river. If successful and cost-effective, the Environment Agency will look at using the technology in other problematic areas around the country.
The trial on the Tamar will start in November and last for an initial five months. It will involve placing 11 sensors along a 20km stretch of river and will help identify and tackle the problem of agricultural pollution in the river – one of England’s most beautiful waterways. Although the river is cleaner than 20 years ago, the impact of diffuse pollution has continued to create challenges in some stretches.
The trial comes as the Environment Agency publishes its classification update of rivers under new, tougher standards set out under the EU Water Framework Directive.
The WFD assessment focuses on the ecological health of waters. In total, 37 measures of water quality, including the health of river insects and plants, are assessed and the grading of each water body is determined by the measure which scores the lowest result.
Ben Bunting, River Basin Programme Manager for the Environment Agency in the South West told the Devon Week: “River quality in England and Wales has steadily improved over the last 20 years and newer, more stringent EU standards will help ensure that they continue to do so.’
“The return of wildlife including otters and salmon to rivers demonstrates the tangible benefit this provides for wildlife and for people, but we are not complacent. The Environment Agency is committed to tackling diffuse pollution and will be working with community groups, River Trusts and wildlife and angling organisations who all have important roles to play in improving waterways.”