Bakkavor ends use of cleaning products containing chlorine

Bakkavor has stopped using chlorine-based cleaning products at its Alresford Salads salad washing and packaging factory near Alresford.

This means that the chemicals used every night to clean the factory’s equipment will not be able to react to form chloramines which are highly toxic to water life even in extremely low concentrations. The EA and others stopped Bakkavor using chlorine in the daytime salad washing water some years ago.

This is one small victory in our campaign to stop Bakkavor’s salad washing factory at Alresford polluting the headwaters of the River Itchen SAC and SSSI - one of our finest and most highly protected chalkstreams.

However, two huge issues remain:

  • The overnight cleaning products are still being discharged straight into the upper reaches of the Itchen rather than to the sewage system;
  • Pesticides washed off the salad crops are also entering the river via an adjoining watercress bed with no monitoring for these potential lethal pesticides taking place.

The solution to the overnight wash is clear: under the precautionary principle, it must be tankered away or connected to the sewer (as Vitacress does at its nearby plant on the Bourne Rivulet). We find it incredible that industrial effluent should be discharged to any river. Bakkavor will howl about the cost but why should any business, let alone a multi-million pound one, be allowed to dump potentially toxic chemicals in the headwaters of a SAC river.

The pesticides could be an even bigger threat to the Itchen. We notified the EA formally last summer about our discovery of a potential pesticide impact below the discharge point from Alresford Salads and the discharge point from the watercress bed operated by The Watercress Company (TWC). The water used to wash the salads is pumped to this adjoining watercress bed, flows through the cress beds and then discharges into the river.  TWC’s discharge permit has no pesticide monitoring conditions. Thus, it is possible this potentially lethal pesticide brew has been entering the Itchen without any monitoring.

After our intervention, the EA has been carrying out intensive pesticide monitoring of these discharges and is due to report soon. We await the results with interest. Whatever the outcome, it seems clear that pesticides washed off the salads should be monitored and, if present in harmful quantities, removed whatever the cost.

Septic tanks – the UK’s secret sewage problem

Septic tanks are not the most glamorous topic...

...But they are definitely the ‘elephant in the room’ when it comes to protecting our waters from nutrient pollution.

What are septic tanks?

There are a vast array of homes that are not linked up to main sewage treatment works. Where properties are located at least 50 metres from a sewer, septic tanks or package treatment plants are the dominant method of sewage disposal.

Septic tanks are essentially underground tanks. Solids sink to the bottom, forming sludge, and liquid flows into a drainage field, where bacteria take out the bad bits as it soaks into the ground. When used and maintained properly these ‘micro-treatment works’ do their job very well.

Why are septic tanks an issue?

It seems quite obvious, but to keep our wild fish and other water life thriving, they need a sewage-free place to live.

Wastewater contains nitrogen and phosphorus from human waste, food, certain soaps and detergents. If a septic tank is not operating correctly, these nutrients are discharged into watercourses. Excess nutrients are bad news for river systems.

There are a variety of reasons why septic systems fail, but one of the most common is poor maintenance. For example, irregular septic tank emptying may cause solids in the tank to block the soakaway and clog the complete system, increasing the risk of an environmentally damaging incident.

Another big issue is regulation around these micro-treatment works. Despite more rigorous regulations being recently introduced for installation of new septic tanks, the vast quantity of unregistered older systems still remain, with their condition and effectiveness largely a mystery.

Rules around septic tanks are also mostly advisory with a lack of top-level ownership around the issue. The absence of a single authority control has led to frequent installation of systems with inadequate drainfield designs, in unsuitable locations and with no common policy covering their registration or maintenance. Systematic inspections are also lacking, currently only discharges of larger systems with specific permits are routinely monitored for discharge quality.

What you can do

To keep our rivers healthy and bursting with life we need your help to keep them sewage-free.

  • If you are a septic tank owner, be responsible & educated.
  • There is some fantastic information around that will answer any questions you have. One of our favourite resources is http://www.callofnature.info/
  • If you know other family and friends with this kind of system, share your knowledge!
  • Report incidents - If you see a suspicious septic tank discharge to your local river, report it! Send us a photograph and a google maps location and we’ll happily take a look.

A dismal end to 2018 for water companies, their regulators, and the government

The end of 2018 was not pretty for water companies.

Sadly, as always, our environment and waterways bear the brunt. 

 

Thames Water: deliberately ignoring alarms

First up was Thames Water, fined £2 million at Oxford Crown Court on 21st  December for a pollution incident in 2015 in which two Oxfordshire streams were polluted with raw sewage killing many fish.  

The Court heard that Thames Water had disregarded more than 800 high priority alarms in the six weeks prior to the incident, and a further 300 alarms were reportedly not properly investigated, which would have indicated that a key sewage pumping station was about to fail. A further alarm was apparently deliberately deactivated by staff during a nightshift.

Thames Water should hang its head in shame.

Southern Water: ongoing Ofwat investigation

Next up was Southern Water. Following a freedom of information battle with Ofwat, just before Christmas, we finally received confirmation from Ofwat that an investigation into Southern Water, begun in 2017, remains ongoing.

Ofwat has revealed that it is investigating breaches relating to the company’s general duty to provide and maintain its sewerage system to ensure its area is effectually drained, pursuant to section 94 of the Water Industry Act 1991.  Section 94 is, in effect, the core duty for the bigger water companies – the law requires them to collect and treat sewage properly.

Ofwat has confirmed that the investigation covers all of Southern Water’s wastewater treatment works, and that it is looking also at the company’s own reporting of compliance information to Ofwat between 2010 and 2017 in relation to those wastewater treatment sites.  

Obviously, while nothing is yet concluded, the fact that an investigation is now one and half years old and is dealing with such fundamental issues as the company’s general duty to provide and maintain a sewerage system, strongly suggests that Ofwat is not happy.

Ofwat and the Water Conservation Report

But Ofwat itself has hardly been the most aggressive of regulators and it is about time that it found its teeth. If any further evidence was required that Ofwat needs to start biting, it was delivered by the Government’s Water Conservation Report 2018  - slipped out on 19th December as we all left for the Christmas break.

The Water Conservation Report identified that water company leakage still represents about 22% of all treated water put into the supply network and has scarcely reduced since 2014.  In 2018 eight water companies missed their leakage targets. On the demand management side, per capita consumption of water has scarcely changed in recent years and only 50% of households have a metered supply.  

If one delves into Hansard, the record of Parliamentary debates and committees, it is not hard to find references going back over many years to the need to reduce leakage, increase metering and conserve water.

If one were to read watery debates from the 1990s or, indeed, those leading up to the Water Act 2003, the story would be depressingly familiar to the one we are presented with today.  

Moving forward in 2019

Both Government and Ofwat need to pull their respective fingers out – there are positive signs that the new regime at Ofwat might deliver more environmental protection than in the past, but the jury is still out.

We must have decisive action to reduce per capita consumption of water, introduce universal metering of domestic and industrial consumers (with appropriate safety nets for those essential users who need large supplies) and to finally get a grip of water company failure to address leakage.  

On protecting rivers from low flows due to over-abstraction, the Water Act 2014 requires the Government to report to Parliament by the end of May on progress on abstraction reform. One fears it will have very little new to say.

If the Government’s bold claims, to wish to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better condition than we found it, are to mean anything at all, the time for writing more reports, reviews and consultations is over. Action involving aggressive enforcement of the existing law must now follow.

Water companies must improve

However, while we can and should bemoan the chronic lack of firm action by Government, and by Ofwat, and indeed by the Environment Agency in failing to pursue more prosecutions against water companies, the real blame for the damage caused to the water environment by over abstraction, by sewage pollution, and by a general lack of stewardship, falls clearly at the feet of the water companies.  

Those of us in the NGO sector who have been ‘around the block’ have attended so many meetings with water company representatives, all so wonderfully reassuring, promising to sort out the problems. But it is easy to forget that it is now thirty years since water privatisation.

The ongoing failure of the water companies to bring their environmental performance up to a reasonable standard over three decades is a national shame.

 

- Words by Guy Linley-Adams, S&TC's Lawyer

Using data to protect wild fish: River Coquet hydropower

River Coquet Hydropower

With the feed-in-tariffs for hydropower ending in March after little activity over the past couple of years, the beginning of 2019 has seen a flurry of applications for new hydro schemes.

For us, this has once again highlighted the importance of our Riverfly Census data to provide evidence, not just anecdote, on the state of our rivers.  

We recently used data from the Census in our response to a hydropower application on the river Coquet.

On this important salmon river, the Census results, which are collected at a higher resolution and frequency than the Environment Agency’s own data, indicate some phosphate, sediment and pesticide pressures already impacting the reach in question.

This, coupled with the Coquet salmon currently classified as ‘probably at risk’ and seatrout ‘at risk,’ surely means we should take a precautionary approach to such developments?

The recent closure of the north east drift nets will be a very important step to improving salmon stocks in this area, but this is by no means a silver bullet.

We must use every opportunity to remove in-river barriers to migration, both upstream and downstream, such as the weir mentioned in this application, as well as improving water quality and salmon habitat too.

The power of the Riverfly Census has led us to develop SMARTRivers – taking the Riverfly Census out to local rivers by training volunteers to sample and analyse aquatic invertebrates to species level, to provide the evidence to drive change. For more information on how you can get involved click here.

2018: A year in review

What have we achieved this year?

2018 has been our biggest year yet! So where has your support got us, and what have we done for wild fish protection and conservation? Our CEO's Year In Review summaries our influence, accomplishments and campaigns over the past 12 months. 

With the help of our many donors, members and grant-making Trusts, S&TC has had a successful year in influencing a number of wins for wild salmon and trout. The below is a quick summary; however you can download the full review here.

Accomplishments:

  • Salmon farming - we were the major catalyst in achieving TWO game-changing Scottish inquiries into salmon farming impacts on wild fish and environment:
    • ECCLR – they conducted the first Inquiry and their Report included the one-liner: the status quo is no longer an option.
    • REC - their Autumn Report was highly critical of the way salmon farming is operated and regulated and presented 65 recommendations for improvement, including most of our main asks.
  • NASCO - we work internationally on wild salmon issues through NASCO, our CEO being co-chair of the accredited NGOs which gives us unprecedented influence. Amongst other issues, we have used NASCO to influence netting closures and pressurise Scottish salmon farming.
  • Riverfly Census - 3 years and 20 rivers later, we have professional and actionable evidence of various pollutants impacting river health, nationally and locally.
    • Census results have shown up the alarmingly poor condition of some of our most high-profile rivers, particularly from sediment and phosphate, and we co-authored a peer-reviewed paper showing the lethal impact of those two stressors on mayflies.
    • The full Riverfly Census report is currently being compiled but has already influenced new invertebrate species and abundance targets for chalkstreams. The Test and Itchen report is now available.
  • Living Rivers - we've been sampling daily phosphate and chemical levels on local chalkstreams, highlighting and challenging some appalling ecological conditions, specifically:
    • Using a case study on the Upper Itchen at Alresford Salad’s washing plant to fight for the elimination of toxic chemical discharges into SAC rivers.
  • Other S&TC policy work - There has been plenty of other work this year, including but definitely not limited to:
    • Water abstraction reform.
    • Agricultural post-Brexit policy.
    • Our seat on the EA’s Water Leaders’ Group, which covers all environmental water issues.
    • Our seat on the National Drought Group, where we have represented wild fisheries since 2011.

Next Steps:

  • Salmon farming - drive the REC Committee’s recommendations through Government so that they are acted upon rather than ignored.  In particular:
    • Scottish Government to adopt legal responsibility to protect wild salmon and sea trout from the impacts of salmon farming.
    • An independent agency to regulate salmon farming against sea lice trigger levels that protect wild fish, with the sanction of forced harvest on persistent offenders.
    • A moratorium on establishing/expanding farms in sensitive locations and movement of existing farms away from migration routes.
    • Incentives for companies to move into closed containment production.
  • Netting - we are concerned that sea trout will still be exploited in some of the north east coastal nets and we will be seeking more action in 2019 to protect sea trout.
  • SMARTrivers - Our new project, based on training and utilising high resolution citizen science to understand and improve wild fish water quality.
  • Living Rivers - We will continue to fight for the protection of the Upper Itchen and have major chemical sampling plans for other rivers in 2019.
  • Much more - stay tuned for our 2019 plans, in January.

Latest data on River Test and River Itchen reveals concerning issues

Test and Itchen are no exception to national decline in water quality and flylife

The S&TC Riverfly Census continues to reveal worrying declines in flylife and water quality in rivers across England and Wales, as confirmed by our latest report on the River Test and the River Itchen (the king and queen of our precious chalkstreams).

In our comprehensive Test and Itchen report published today, the results from three years of independent species-level invertebrate data reveal:

  • Significant loss of mayfly species.
  • Low gammarus counts.
  • Worrying impacts from sediment, phosphate and, occasionally, pesticides.

Mayfly and gammarus declines

Comparing historic data with our findings has revealed that both the Test and Itchen have four less mayfly species, on average, than their historical averages. This decline in mayfly species richness, and the worrying low numbers of gammarus, are powerful indicators of an ecosystem in distress.

The flylife in both rivers is far poorer than we would expect for chalkstreams in good condition  - let alone these SSSI (Sites of special scientific Interest) and SAC (Special Area of Conservation) rivers.

Mayfly species have declined from an average of 12 to 8 (33.3%) on the Itchen and 11 to 7 (36.36%) on the Test, over the period from the late 1970s/early 1980s to today.

The current levels are also well below local targets of 10 mayfly species - targets agreed with the Environment Agency for what would be expected in a healthy river.

Gammarus, a key staple of the aquatic food chain, is also well below our 500-target level at most sites (historically, gammarus counts went into the thousands).

Excess sediment and phosphorus

Our report reveals the extent that chemical, phosphorus and sediment pollution are impacting the invertebrate community in both the Test & Itchen.

It is clear that a reduction of sediment and phosphate inputs (from point and diffuse sources, including septic tanks, agriculture, sewage treatment works, industry, etc) are essential to conserve these rivers.

Importance of the S&TC Riverfly Census

Lauren Mattingley, S&TC’s Science Officer, explains why data like this is so important:

“We frequently hear stories and concerns about missing flylife and lack of fish compared to the 'good old days', but anecdotal evidence has little weight in environmental decision making.

The Riverfly Census was launched as a ‘myth-busting’ tool to collect much needed high-resolution, scientifically robust data about the real state of water quality in our rivers.

Switching from opinion to fact-based evidence gives us real power to drive national and local improvements to our waterways.

“The Test & Itchen report is a fantastic example of why we need to break away from data ‘silos’.

The Riverfly Census data tells a story on its own, but when linked up with additional local invertebrate and phosphorus monitoring data, we can really start to grasp the pressures on these rivers.

The environment is complex, and stressors rarely work in isolation, so why would we conduct monitoring this way?”

Turning science into action

The Census is no mere academic exercise. We are using this powerful data to inform and build effective strategies which improve wild fish habitat:

  • We are acting on the Census results to improve water quality in these rivers, working with stakeholders in the area.
  • We are tackling known sources of pollution; such as the Bakkavor salad washing plant on the Itchen headwaters, and intensive watercress farming on both the Test and the Itchen.
  • Our findings on the Itchen impelled us to challenge the EA under the Environmental Damage Regulations. We are awaiting the EA’s response.
  • To share the Riverfly Census results from the Test and Itchen and drive further improvements to these rivers, we will be holding a workshop on 12th February 2019. A key aim of the workshop will be to highlight knowledge gaps and develop next steps with a range of stakeholders, regulators and scientists. Please contact Lauren (lauren@salmon-trout.org) if you or your organisation would like to book a place at the workshop.

River Itchen damage below Alresford Salads: Autumn 2018 photos

New photos show damage in River Itchen below Bakkavor's Alresford Salads factory.

At S&TC we have long been campaigning to stop Bakkavor discharging their salad wash effluent into the headwaters of the River Itchen.

The Itchen is a designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and we fear that the chemicals in their discharge are harming the environment.

Read more: Chlorine in our conservation areas?

Read more: Toxic chemicals keep coming

Our latest autumn samples of invertebrates and algal growth, from a site just downstream of the Bakkavor factory, reinforces our concern.

Our autumn river bed photos, and samples of invertebrates and algae, taken on 5 October 2018, immediately downstream of the Bakkavor salad washing factory (Alresford Salads), show the Itchen headwaters remain heavily polluted. This is in stark contrast to the condition of the Upper Test.

 

Excess algal slime demonstrates damage

The bed of the Itchen headwater stream at our sample site is covered in algal “slime”.

This is a short distance downstream from Bakkavor’s salad washing factory’s discharge point.

River Itchen photos

The bed of the stream should show clear, un-sedimented gravel like this photograph of the Test headwaters at Polhampton taken last Autumn:

Dr Nick Everall of Aquascience has analysed this sinister algal growth. This is what he reports:

“There was extensive area coverage (over 90%) of the river bed area with the thick biological growth or slime which upon microscopic examination was, aside to a bit of chalk and sediment adhesion, entirely composed of filamentous and attached algal and lesser fungal growth…

The dominant and major composition of the biological growth covering metres of the bed of the River Itchen below Alresford Salads was, often filamentous, algae (diatoms, blue-greens and green algae) with some fungal component…

It was typical of organic and nutrient enriched benthic ‘slime’ or sewage fungus’ (Fjerdingstad, 1964 and Hellawell, 1986).”

Read Dr Nick Everall's October 2018 report here

Invertebrates (or lack thereof)

The invertebrate sample from the Itchen headwaters was devoid of insects sensitive to pollution. There were no mayflies or gammarus.

The associated biometric measurements indicate an impact from pesticides, siltation, nutrient enrichment (phosphates) and organic pollution.

In short, the lack of invertebrates signifies the water quality is extremely poor in general – and exceptionally so for the headwaters of a Special Area of Conservation chalkstream.

Read Dr Nick Everall's October 2018 report here

The Upper Test sample taken in autumn 2017 was dramatically healthier. There were over 1800 gammarus and two species of mayfly, for starters. The biometrics indicated no impact from siltation, phosphates or organic pollution.

 

What are we doing about it?

We were so horrified by the invertebrate sample taken in May 2018 from the same Upper Itchen headwater site that we formally notified the Environment Agency (EA) to investigate the problem.

Read more: Alresford Salads EDR

That investigation is continuing; meanwhile we will share our latest findings with the EA, whom we are also fighting to stop Bakkavor discharging its salad wash effluent into the headwaters of the Itchen.

Read more: Will Alresford Salads end use of their chorine-free cleaning products?

In response, the EA is seeking a variation of Bakkavor’s discharge consent, but progress is painfully slow.

Overall, our data is providing strong evidence for the EA to insist Bakkavor stops pumping its effluent into the river. This is the only environmentally acceptable outcome.

As Nick Measham, Deputy Chief Exectuive of S&TC, summarises:

"It is a nonsense that biocides are discharged into any watercourse, let alone the headwaters of an SAC.

Such chemicals can be highly toxic to aquatic life, negatively impacting the health and abundance of wild salmon and trout in our waters - as well as all the other creatures that live there and together sustain freshwater's delicate ecology.

Has the EA got the courage to say no, or will industry triumph over one of Britain’s natural wonders?"

Agricultural Bill: Is a ‘Green Brexit’ possible?

The first major Agriculture Bill for over 70 years has now been published, promising a cleaner, greener and healthier environment post Brexit

Currently farmers receive €4 billion in subsides each year, which is divided up related to the total amount of land farmed. For current subsidies farmers do not need to ‘do’ anything.

The new Bill proposes farmers are paid for delivering public goods; things we cannot buy in a shop, like clean water, flood attenuation, thriving wildlife and healthy soils.

 

Funding a 'Green Brexit'

The headlines are good. But as with everything, the devil will be in the detail.

This new approach will need substantial investment and coordination to ensure the right public goods happen in the right places for people and wildlife.

And the big elephant in the room is the funding. How do the Government plan to fund their ‘Green Brexit’? No details have been given on this so far.

 

Carrot vs Stick

The Government reiterated at the launch that they were committed to:

“maintaining a strong regulatory baseline, with enforcement mechanisms that are proportionate and effective”.

This is where we at S&TC have the greatest concern.

Current enforcement is just not fit for purpose. It is totally under-resourced.

We are all for having a big juicy carrot for farmers, but it must be accompanied by an equally proportionate stick where required.

The data from our own Riverfly Census indicates that many rivers in England and Wales are suffering from the impacts of excess phosphates and fine sediments from poor agricultural practices. This impacts wild fish populations, from smothering their spawning redds, to reducing the invertebrates they feed on.

For the small minority of farmers which do pollute, sometimes repetitively, strong action must be taken.

 

What happens next

The Bill proposes a long timetable, where the current system of payments under the Common Agricultural Policy will continue until 2021, then a seven-year transition period to the new system, where the old payments will gradually taper off.

Like most environmental charities, we have lobbied for years for this vision where farmers are rewarded for delivering for the environment- creating a sustainable future for farming and the environment alike.

We will see over the next few months, as the Agriculture Bill makes its way through Parliament, if that vision can survive.

However, in order to achieve a truly cleaner, greener and healthier environment post Brexit, enforcement, or the current lack of it, must be addressed too.

To help us take action against agricultural pollution visit our ‘see it, photograph it, report it’ campaign.

-

By Dr Janina Gray, Head of Science & Policy at S&TC

River Itchen pollution: Alresford Salads trial chlorine-free cleaning products

Is the end of chlorine-based cleaning products at Alresford salad washing plant finally in sight?

Finally, it appears Alresford salad washing plant is planning to stop using chlorine-based cleaning products.

This would mean that there would no longer be any products used to wash the site’s equipment that could react to form chloramines, which are highly toxic to water life even in very low concentrations in water.

 

A small win for S&TC

At S&TC we have been campaigning for this for a long-time.

Our own Riverfly Census invertebrate data and phosphate monitoring on the Itchen in recent years indicate that the river is far from a pristine chalkstream.

We feel it is extraordinary that chlorine products are ever allowed to be discharged, insufficiently treated, into any UK river, let alone a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) such as Itchen, the most protected under EU legalisation.

This, however, would only be a small potential win. It is important to remember that any chemicals used to disinfect and clean are, by their nature, toxic.

We do not believe any of these chemicals should be discharged into an SAC river.

 

More sustainable solution still needed

Applying the precautionary principle, the solution is easy- connect the discharge to the main sewer, as nearby competitor, Vitacress, has already done on the Bourne Rivulet.

Yes, this would be at a cost, but should a multi-million pound industry really be allowed to use an SAC to dispose of chemical waste?

 

Next steps

On the 10th September, Alresford salad washing plant began a 6-week trial into the new chlorine-free cleaning products for its night-time washing; during which time the EA has requested monitoring of the discharges. Following this:

  • The EA envisage that the updated risk assessment will be submitted to them by the end of October
  • The EA will then undertake consultation with Natural England in mid-December
  • The EA plan to consult the public on their position in February 2019

As always, we will continue to provide updates via our website, social media and email.

 

Imported pesticides in our chalkstream?

It is worth noting that we have wider concerns beyond the nighttime washing effluent.

We also have concerns about whether pesticides, which may be washed off imported salad that is being processed and bagged at Alresford, could also be ending up in the Itchen.

We plan to do more monitoring to assess this risk and will be requesting to see the EA’s official policy on protecting our rivers from the risks of chemicals washed off imported goods and discharged directly into our watercourses.

In the meantime, I’ll be washing my own salad!

-

Words by our Head of Science & Policy, Dr Janina Gray

High resolution monitoring is essential for river conservation

This is a re-posting of an original article from Environmental Technology

 

High Resolution Monitoring on the Itchen

Working on behalf of Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC), researchers from the University of Portsmouth have been investigating nutrient concentrations in the Upper River Itchen, in Hampshire, UK, to better understand where phosphorus is coming from and how it is impacting river ecology.

The work has been underway for over three years and Lauren Mattingley, Science Officer for S&TC says:

“Continuous monitoring of phosphorus has improved our understanding of nutrient dynamics in the Itchen.

To date the results from this monitoring have influenced the lowering of discharge limits from watercress companies and trout breeding farms.

The behaviour of phosphorus in rivers is relatively poorly understood, and this is often reflected in water quality standards that, in our opinion, lack the scientific evidence to adequately protect the ecology of the UK’s diverse water resources.

Research such as that which we have commissioned on the Itchen is essential to set informed phosphorus permits to protect water life.”

 

Background

The Itchen is a world famous chalk stream; renowned for its clear water and high quality fly fishing.

Designated a ‘Special Area of Conservation’ the river supports populations of water-crowfoot, Southern damselfly, Bullhead, Brook lamprey, White-clawed crayfish and otters. The upper river does not suffer from wastewater treatment works discharges, but does support two watercress farms, which have been the focus of initiatives to reduce phosphate concentrations.

S&TC is the only UK charity campaigning for wild fish and their habitats. The organisation’s goal is for UK waters to support abundant and sustainable populations of wild fish and all other water-dependent wildlife. Within its ‘Living Rivers’ campaign S&TC is seeking to tackle two of the major causes of poor water quality – fine sediment and phosphorus. The Itchen is therefore acting as a pilot river for their water quality monitoring initiatives.

Phosphorus in fresh water is a major concern globally; mainly because of its role in the formation of algal blooms and eutrophication, which have a harmful effect on water quality and habitats. Under certain conditions, raised phosphate concentrations contribute to the proliferation of nuisance phytoplankton as well as epiphytic and benthic algae.

Diffuse sources of phosphate include storm water and agricultural run-off from land, and point sources include septic tanks and wastewater discharges from industry and sewage treatment works. Soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) is the main concern, because of its availability for aquatic organism growth, but other forms of phosphate such as particulate phosphate can contribute to nutrient enrichment.

The EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) required the UK to achieve ‘good status’ of all water bodies (including rivers, streams, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater) by 2015, but in 2012 only 36% of water bodies were classified as ‘good’ or better.

The UK Technical Advisory Group (UKTAG) published recommendations in 2013 to revise the standards for phosphorus in rivers, because those set in 2009 were not sufficiently stringent - in 75% of rivers with clear ecological impacts of nutrient enrichment, the existing standards produced phosphorus classifications of good or even high status! DEFRA, therefore, revised the phosphorus standards to lower concentrations. However, the SRP concentration limits vary widely according to the location and alkalinity of the river.

Recognising a gap in the understanding of the relationship between phosphorus and aquatic ecology, S&TC has a unique agreement with the Environment Agency (EA) in Hampshire in which key environmental targets have been established for the Rivers Itchen and Test to help drive ecological improvements. The agreed targets are set around the number of key water insects that should be expected in a 3-minute kick-sweep sample. The targets are for the middle and lower reaches of the catchment to support at least 500 freshwater shrimps (Gammarus) and 10 separate mayfly species - all of which are susceptible to different forms of pollution, so their presence provides a measure of the river’s health.

S&TC has also conducted research investigating the effects of fine sediment and SRP on the hatching of the blue winged olive, Serratella ignita (Ephemerellidae: Ephemeroptera) a crucial component of the aquatic food chain. The results found that a cocktail of SRP and fine sediment at concentrations exceeding those found in many UK rivers (25 mg/L fine sediment and 0.07 mg/L phosphate) caused 80% of the eggs in the experiment to die. This unique research highlighted the environmental damage caused by phosphorus beyond eutrophication.

 

Water sampling and analysis

Five automatic samplers have been strategically located on the river, each collecting daily samples. This generates 120 samples per 24 day cycle, which are collected and transferred to the Portsmouth laboratory. The samples are split into three for the analysis of Total Phosphate, Soluble Reactive Phosphate (SRP) and Total Dissolved Phosphate (TDP).

To accommodate such a high volume of work, the lab in the University of Portsmouth’s School of Earth & Environmental Sciences employs a QuAAtro 5-channel segmented flow autoanalyzer, from SEAL Analytical.

“The QuAAtro has been in heavy use for over 9 years,”

says Senior Scientific Officer Dr Adil Bakir.

“It has been employed on a number of academic and commercial research projects, and is also used for teaching. As a 5-channel instrument, we are able to study phosphate, nitrate, nitrite, ammonia and silicate, but our work on the Itchen is focused on the different forms of phosphate.”

The University of Portsmouth’s Environmental Chemistry Analytical Laboratory provides analytical and consultancy services for businesses, universities and other organisations. Dr Bakir says: “With the QuaAAttro we are able to analyse diverse matrices including river water, sea water and wastewater, and with automatic dilution and high levels of sensitivity, we are able to measure a wide range of concentrations.”

 

Developing effective discharge consents

The analytical work undertaken by the laboratory at the University of Portsmouth has greatly improved the understanding of the ecology of the River Itchen and thereby informed the development of appropriate discharge consents for the watercress farms.

Effective 1st January 2016, new discharge permits were issued by the Environment Agency that set limits on phosphate discharges to the River Itchen system. For the Vitacress Pinglestone Farm these limits were set at 0.064 mg/L and measured as an annual mean increase compared to the inlet sample. S&TC now works closely with Vitacress, monitoring immediately downstream of the discharge so that the effects of the new discharge limit can be effectively assessed.

Looking forward, Lauren says:

“The lessons that we have learned on the Itchen are transferrable, and do not only apply to chalk streams. All rivers have their issues and inputs, so proper diagnosis and understanding of how these shape the biology is essential to the successful restoration of degraded systems.

In an ideal world, phosphorus targets would be established on a river by river basis, and determined by research and proper monitoring.

River ecology is impacted by a wide variety of factors and while nutrients represent a serious risk, it is important for us to understand all of the threats, and the relationships between them.

In summary, without high-resolution monitoring, river standards will be less reliable and river restoration efforts will be blind to their consequences.”