Water pollution

What is the issue?

Diffuse (urban) pollution: nutrients from domestic sewage, industrial wastes and storm drainage and toxic pollutants from industrial, domestic and highway runoff. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) - substances which interfere with the body’s endocrine system and hormonal activities, and can result in intersex fish and thus reduce the population survival - also enter watercourses in the form of natural and synthetic hormones (such as compounds found in contraceptive pills), industrial chemicals, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

Diffuse Pollution – its Impact and Resolutions

Agricultural pollution: excess nutrients from fertilisers and farm effluents, toxic chemicals such as sheep dips and fine sediment runoff from poor farming practises. Excess nutrients can cause eutrophication, when oxygen is removed from the water due to extreme plant growth. This can stress or kill fish and invertebrate populations. Excessive fine sediments can smother invertebrates and clog up vital spawning gravels.

What S&TCUK has achieved so far

Important milestones include;

  • The banning of cypermethrin sheep dips in 2009.
  • S&TCUK is involved in scientific projects aimed at informing WFD delivery, including university-based research involving EDCs in river water and their impact on brown trout, and large scale field projects researching sediment impact on river systems and sources of sediment input.
  • Water companies are starting to invest in catchment management, rather than end of pipe, solutions to improve water quality.
  • S&TCUK is one of the founder members of the Blueprint for Water team (now under the aegis of Wildlife & Countryside Link, of which we are a full member), It has set out a 10-point ask – many of which cover water pollution – to Government for the future management of water and the aquatic environment.

What still needs to be done?

S&TCUK is lobbying, both individually and with other organisations (especially as part of the Blueprint for Water team), for Government and Agencies to:

  • Incorporate river system level management under the Water Framework Directive, where all measures to reduce water pollution are incorporated and delivered within Catchment Management Plans.
  • Ensure greater cross-compliance so agricultural grants and subsides deliver benefits to the water environment
  • The Government to set out a clear guidance on when and how regulatory tools, such as Water Protection Zones, can be used if the voluntary approach is not delivering.
  • Champion urban Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUD) to mitigate surface flooding and trap pollutants.
  • Urge Ofwat to increase incentives to Water Companies for adopting catchment management solutions to improve water quality.

Other information

  • EDC

Blueprint for Water briefing on the abstraction reform consultation: why and how you can respond
S&TCUK and AC Joint Response to UKWAS application
S&TCUK Scientific Briefing Paper: The Effect of Endocrine Disruptors on Fish
EA. (2008). Catchment risk assessment of steroid oestrogens from sewage treatment works.
EA. (2004). Proposed predicted no-effect-concentrations (PNECs) for natural and synthetic steroid oestrogens in surface waters
EA. (2001). The endocrine modulating effects of wastework treatment works effluents.
EA. (2002). The identification of oestrogenic substances in sewage treatment work effluents.
Cefas. (2002). Endocrine disruption in the marine environment (EDMAR)